“Here at the window of the turret room, Lavren, at the sill of the Demerara window, Marie Elena behind him on her deathbed telling the last tales before the end of the world as bachac ants attack the rose bushes in Immaculata’s sunken garden, and woodlice eat their way through the pitchpine floorboards, and Josephine sits by the kitchen door shelling pigeon-peas: from this vantage point, Lavren can listen and write and tell the history of the New World.” So begins a hallucinatory Caribbean tale involving the imperialist land-grab, sexual anarchy, abandoned women, religious mania, “the destruction of the Amerindians, the enslavement of Africans and the indentureship of the Indians,” and culminating in self-rule and independence. “People were dreaming in the twilight barrack-rooms, in the kerosene-lit villages for the setting of the imperial sun.”
Lawrence Scott weaves a magical, lush tapestry of words and images, bringing alive local legends and family narratives; and redressing written histories. The impact of the events recounted still resonate in Caribbean society today. A quasi-historical novel, Witchbroom recounts the story of a colonial white enclave on an offshore island through muddled memories. The central narrator repeats what he remembers “from the distracted mind of his muse Marie Elena, and her art of telling stories while they eat Crix biscuits, rat cheese and guava jelly together in the turret room overlooking the Gulf of Sadness.” The stories are bewitching and highly disturbing. The reader surfs a tidal wave of addictive fascination like a Dickensian tricoteuse sitting beside the guillotine in Paris watching heads roll during the public executions of 1793-4.
Continue reading Book of the Week | Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott
‘You doing this for charity?’
‘No, it’s entirely selfish’, I reply, ‘A wish to live, before life passes by’.
Tony Chan – originally Australian, but now living and working in England – composes a poem a day as he treks between the four extreme cardinal points of the British mainland. His walk begins on 3 January, 2015, at the northernmost point, Dunnet Head, continuing on to Ardnamurchan Point and Lowestoft Ness, before ending at Lizard Point on 21 March.
There were times, at bedtime, when my daddy
Told the one lonely tale that he knew best,
The sino-story, Journey to the West,
With its magi heroes, Monk and Monkey.
Here I stand, having chased my father’s voice,
Rock under my feet, waves against the rock,
And waves all through the line of nine o’clock:
At journey’s end, there is only one choice.
Continue reading Book of the Week | Four Points Fourteen Lines by Tony Chan
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ − one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” The spirit of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech made on 28 August, 1963, underpins this captivating and lyrical children’s book, deftly translated from the Italian by Siân Williams. The Oh Freedom! playlist at the end of the book is a natty touch.
Freedom of thought, religious freedom, freedom to live a fulfilled and happy and better life . . . People fleeing from the violations and abuses of tyrannical regimes all around the world dream of it. Oh Freedom! How precious you are! To what lengths will people go, in the hope of starting a better life?
Continue reading Book of the Week | Oh, Freedom! by Francesco d’Adamo
Abigail, a pretty, rebellious seventeen year old, gets home from school to find her family gone. Her toddler twin stepsisters’ room is empty, save a blue teddy. The police do not believe her shock and despair at being abandoned by her mother, Kathryn. To them the girl is trouble − as she is to her ruthless, narcissistic grandmother, Eleanor: the lynchpin of the family.
Home is where the heart is: but what if there is no heart? Women who suffer neglect as children often grow up to become mothers who neglect their own, even if they do not want to on a conscious level. Thwarted female energies cause depression. Mental abuse is as serious physical abuse, and its long-term effects can be greater. Keeping up appearances at all costs − resulting in shame, secrets and lies being passed down from one generation to the next − lies at the core of this skilfully crafted, debut novel.
Continue reading Book of the Week | Beneath the Surface by Heidi Perks
The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.
Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?
Continue reading Philip Marsden reviews The Sabres of Paradise by Lesley Blanch