House of Ashes by Monique Roffey

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

To borrow the title of Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel, the protagonist of Roffey’s fourth fiction book is every inch the reluctant fundamentalist. Ashes, a mild, pious scholar, finds himself swept up in the bloody carnival of a coup d’état gone terribly wrong: one that leaves him, gun-toting and terrified, in the ransacked House of Power of fictitious Caribbean island, Sans Amen. Roffey’s courageous take on the events of T & T’s 1990 attempted coup reads with a sense of suspended incredulity at its own unbelievably murky waters. Seldom has there been this level of vigorous creative interpretation with one of our nation’s most harrowing – and still, least resolved – psychological traumas. In this novel, no one, from reckless politicians to ideologically motivated terrorists, escapes criticism, and no one is cast as blameless in Sans Amen’s ledger of sins.

In our Christmas newsletter last year, we eagerly endorsed Monique’s newest novel for lovers of politically thrilling, intriguing reads; Trinbagonians who won’t shy away from an uneasy analysis of their own country; those who’ve read and appreciated Raoul Pantin’s Days of Wrath. The work has gone on to reap juried acclaim, earning spots on both the 2014 Costa Novel Award shortlist and the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature longlist.

A telling exchange between Minister for the Environment, Aspasia Garland, and Breeze, the weapon-wielding youth holding her hostage, poignantly underscores one of the novel’s many divides in privilege and power. Aspasia wonders, regarding Breeze with a medley of dread and sympathy,

“about the size of this young boy’s world. Had he ever swum in the sea along the north coast of his own island? Had an adult ever taken him over the mountains to get to the sea? If he was from the slums in the east of the City of Silk, there was no reason he should know about, let alone care about sea creatures.”

Many moments of sensitive portrayal, of the plights of government ministers and ghetto insurrectionists in equal measure, mark the trajectory of House of Ashes, a novel that stands proudly in the cache of Roffey’s brave storytelling.

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An Evening of Tea and Readings, March 8th – Paper Based Turns 27!

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Our official event flyer, designed by Reynold Hackshaw.

Our official event flyer, designed by Reynold Hackshaw.

The beginning of 2014 saw our Tea and Readings series revitalized, with a successful event in February. Just one month later, we were equally excited to host March’s reading, for many reasons, including our celebration of Paper Based’s twenty-seventh birthday! In her opening remarks, Paper Based’s owner, Joan Dayal, expressed how grateful she was that our festivities shared a calendar page with International Women’s Day.

Joan Dayal says a few welcoming words to the gathering.

Joan Dayal says a few welcoming words to the gathering.

To commemorate the occasion, we assembled a lineup of writers with various literary backgrounds, whose works span several genres and formats: literary fiction; romance writing; poetry; short stories.

Nzingha Job reads from her journals of poetry.

Nzingha Job reads from her journals of poetry.

Nzingha Job’s poetry launched us into the evening. Job, a former TEDxPort of Spain speaker, read poems that tackled issues of both personal limitation and public confrontation. Her readings moved from a rapid-paced, self-professed “rant”, to what Job described as more inspirational fare. Speaking candidly and forthrightly about sexual policing of the individual; of creative growth and emotional turmoil, Job’s poems echoed with a triumphant, underlying message of positivity, even in times as uncertain as these.

Hugh Blanc shares an excerpt from his current work in progress.

Hugh Blanc shares an excerpt from his current work in progress.

Hugh Blanc took to the podium next, reading an excerpt from his second novel, which he’s in the process of writing. Blanc said he expects to have the sophomore offering completed later this year. The extracts he shared display the same dense description and sensitive character analysis that define Blanc’s first novel, the Kirkus Review-starred Between Bodies Lie. We were early fans of Between Bodies Lie, selecting it as our first-ever Book Club Pick last year. We’re excited to see what future signposts of success are in store for Blanc’s blossoming literary career.

Elspeth Duncan reads interlinked stories from her novel in vignettes, Daisy Chain.

Elspeth Duncan reads interlinked stories from her novel in vignettes, Daisy Chain.

Elspeth Duncan’s unusually-formatted novel, Daisy Chain, has won favour with those seeking nonconformist tales of women’s interior lives. When Duncan shared three of the stories from Daisy Chain, it was easy to see why: the prose is deceptively simple, packing an emotional punch in each examination of a single woman, whose life interlaps with many other females. The stories spellbind, whether they’re describing a woman’s desire to remove the clown makeup her husband so loves, or another’s consuming desire for the young girl who mows her lawn. One guest described Duncan’s style as bearing both “a creative imagination and a light touch”, which is a perspective we’re happy to second.

Nathalie Taghaboni reads from her second novel in the Savanoy series, Santimanitay.

Nathalie Taghaboni reads from her second novel in the Savanoy series, Santimanitay.

For Nathalie Taghaboni, this reading marked another event in her homecoming tour. Taghaboni launched two novels in the romance series, The Savanoys, at NALIS on Friday 7th, March. Paper Based was proud to be that event’s official bookseller, and equally happy to invite the writer of Across From Lapeyrouse and Santimanitay to our birthday reading. Taghaboni shared scintillating moments from both novels, her readings proving that the books have a fiercely colourful, Carnival-inspired heart.

Monique Roffey shares selections from her forthcoming novel, House of Ashes.

Monique Roffey shares selections from her forthcoming novel, House of Ashes.

The evening’s feature reader, Monique Roffey, is no stranger to Paper Based: she’s been a tireless supporter of the shop, and she launched her last novel, Archipelago, here. In addition to Archipelago (winner of the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature), Roffey’s novels have been consistent prizewinners, shortlistees and recipients of other honours. We were especially thrilled to hear Roffey read from her brand new novel, House of Ashes, forthcoming in June 2014. This was the first time that any excerpt from House of Ashes was shared in a public forum, and from Roffey’s first word, the audience was hooked. The novel focuses on the events surrounding the 1990 coup in Trinidad, and is conducted from dual points of view: that of a hostage victim, and a gunman.

Roffey treated the evening’s guests to perspectives from both sets of narration, and it’s difficult to decide which was more entrancing. This new novel already promises to be a gripping affair, in its stark, vivid depictions of desperate civil unrest, and of the emotional tour de force that such scenarios inevitably represent.

Ruth Osman Rose performs, with Raf Robertson accompanying her on keyboard.

Ruth Osman Rose performs, with Raf Robertson accompanying her on keyboard.

Jazz musician Ruth Osman Rose set the audience’s feet to tapping, and even got a lively refrain echoing through the Normandie’s marketplace foyer, as she performed her set. Such was the abundant, affirmative energy radiated by Osman Rose, that she sent patrons scampering right to our register, to purchase her debut CD, Letting Go. 

Trinidad’s next major literary event is, of course, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest! In case you haven’t already marked the dates firmly in your planners, this year’s festival takes place from the 23rd to the 27th of April. Paper Based will be a fixture during Bocas, as we’ve been proud to be since the festival’s inception in 2011.

In the run-up to #bocas2014, we’ll be highlighting several of the books and authors on this year’s soon-to-be-released programme. Our next official newsletter, slated for release in the first week of April, will focus exclusively on Bocas Lit Fest content!

Two of Paper Based's youngest readers share a moment after all the evening's formalities!

Two of Paper Based’s youngest readers share a moment after all the evening’s formalities!

We’re grateful to each of you who came out to partake in our birthday revels, and to everyone who continues to support Paper Based. Whether we see you as regularly as clockwork each week, or on your annual visits back to Trinidad, we appreciate your commitment and loyalty to our shop. In your company, we look forward to many, many more birthdays in service of independent, literary Caribbean bookselling!

All photographs by Desiree Seebaran.

Archipelago by Monique Roffey

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Archipelago

Dear Paper Based readers, as the tremendously exciting third annual Bocas Lit Fest draws closer (we’re a mere two weeks away!) we’ll be focusing on several of the festival’s books here on our blog. This week, we turn our attention to the three category prize winners of the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, beginning with the victorious fiction selection: Archipelago by Monique Roffey. We’ve hosted a special reading of Monique reading from Archipelago at the shop, and can personally declare it to be a resounding success of a novel, one that sets itself apart on the merits of its ambitious, engaging voice. Archipelago reads as that rare fictive accomplishment: an engaging story, beautifully told.

The novel focuses on the (mis)adventures of unlikely hero Gavin Weald, his daughter Océan and their loyal hound, Suzy, as the three set sail on Gavin’s old boat Romany, to visit the Venezuelan Los Roques archipelagic chain of islands. In transporting his small familial tribe to new waters, Gavin flees the crippling loss he’s endured in Trinidad, charting a course to a destination whose emotional resonances he cannot yet quite fathom. An astounding portrait of the human psyche under pressure, the novel is replete with the stunning beauty of the natural world.

Succintly and grandly described by Kapka Kassabova of The Guardian as a “A big-hearted Moby Dick story for our times”, Archipelago wins over even the most sea-wary of travellers with its commitment to telling its own personal truths, and to telling them in a style that only serves to invite us deeper into the windswept, tempest-tossed world created in the writer’s capable hands.