by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger
Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Every day from now til Christmas, we’ll be bringing you handpicked selections from the very best of current and classic Caribbean literary shelves (with one or two international picks stirred in). Each title will be accompanied by recommendations for its ideal reader, to aid you in your Yuletide gift selections — and we’re thrilled to unfurl our seasonal book banner with a gorgeous coming of age debut, Naomi Jackson’s The Star Side of Bird Hill.
Sisters Dionne and Phaedra are no strangers to tumultuous journeys. They’ve had their lives uprooted and resettled in Barbados, where the rules are different, the sea closer and brighter, and the nights filled with a new kind of magic. Sharply different in temperament, both girls negotiate the rule of their stern, wise grandmother, Hyacinth — and the world of changes that lingers just outside their Bird Hill doorstep. They learn quickly that “home” is a complex, sometimes infuriating destination:
“Ask a Bajan where their navel string is buried and you will get as many answers as people you ask, and all of them will have to do with home.”
Steering clear of a postcard-glossy portrait of Barbados, Jackson paints a world in which women’s voices have the power to upbraid, cleanse, curse and heal. Hyacinth describes herself as one who sometimes needs nightfall to hear herself properly, and both her granddaughters learn to find their power — separate yet united by familial threads — in a society where everyone’s personal affairs are laid bare, where untold beauty grapples with sneaking suspicion and sequestered secrets. Even when things are at their most despair-laden, the three women whose lives, losses and victories fill this novel with richness and depth reach for something more within themselves.
It is in the process of weaving these family ties that the novelist makes her realms of matriarchy and cultural fusion shine, showing that long roads to peace can be marked by miraculous signposts as much as maelstroms.
We recommend it for: lovers of strong, capable female protagonists; readers of Tiphanie Yanique and Cristina García ; those who enjoy their bildungsromans with bite, colour and lyrical storytelling beauty.