4 Favourite Books Written by Caribbean Authors

I’ve been thinking about the type of blog entries that I enjoy reading. Posts that stand out the most to me are entries featuring some sort of list or the potential for discovering amazing new books and fascinating reads. I quite enjoy it when Nikki does it as well.

As such I’m going to attempt to share some of my regional or plain ol’ quirky favourites that I enjoyed reading and maybe a few that I would like for read myself! Each book will be led by a small review or personal reflection.

4 Favourite Books Written by Caribbean Authors

I’ve written quite a bit about Caribbean authors or Caribbean books in the past so I’m going to try and pick 4, magical 4 that I love the most. I’ve reviewed The Other Side of Paradise by Jamaican, StaceyAnn Chin and A Small Place by Antiguan, Jamaica Kincaid before so I won’t include them in this list, though I love those books immensely (like Top 10 Books Of All Darn Time)

Breath, Eyes, Memory

Not a true memoir, Breath, Eyes, Memory is cited to have reflected Danticat’s move from rural Haiti to the busy city of New York. Did you know that this was published when she was 25? I’m 26 now and that galls me into doing something a bit more WOW about my life.

In all truth though, Danticat is such a moving and terrifyingly descriptive writer. It’s a true gem in Caribbean fiction and portrays the heartbreak and yet joy of each side of the ocean. Haiti is known for its poverty and the sheer amount of devastation it’s encountered in the past few years. Yet, Danticat’s novel shows a fun side, a different side that is found in the love of one’s country, family and friends as well as the joys of nature.

It was chosen as Oprahs Book-Club pick in 1998, and I’d recommend reading an interview that Oprah’s put up on her website.

BlurbAt an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti–and the enduring strength of Haiti’s women–with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people’s suffering and courage.

At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti–to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

Wide Sargasso Sea

One day I’ll write a review about this book and put you all out of your misery. I know that I write about this book frequently, even recently where I noted how it opened up the genre of Caribbean literature for me.

I cannot stress enough how fascinating I find this book. It’s painful but mostly, it’s a journey, a weird type of psychic journey where alienation and trying to be something your not can have devastating effects on you. It is also a reimagining of the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre which I read first, and I must say I’m glad someone gave this woman a voice, even if it is an utterly heartbreaking one. Building up on last week’s focus on perspective (in the similar post on African authors), I must say that Wide Sargasso Sea is an exercise in perspective and dearth of understanding that can sometimes gulf us in it. I quite enjoyed The Independent’s review of this book as well. So go read it!

Blurb: Jean Rhys’s reputation was made upon the publication of this passionate and heartbreaking novel, in which she brings into the light one of fiction’s most mysterious characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

A sensual and protected young woman, Antoinette Cosway grows up in the lush natural world of the Caribbean. She is sold into marriage to the coldhearted and prideful Rochester, who succumbs to his need for money and his lust. Yet he will make her pay for her ancestors’ sins of slaveholding, excessive drinking, and nihilistic despair by enslaving her as a prisoner in his bleak English home.

Annie John

You know what bugs me? That I’ve read all of these books, rich in Caribbeanness, after I finished school. I don’t know why in The Bahamas the literature section is so limited in scope. I don’t know if Nikki will agree with this (she might now, she might, when you read this Nikki please comment on it!) but I do think that this novel should be included in BGCSE courses.

Written by Jamaica Kincaid, an author I’d burst into tears if I ever met her in person, Annie John is a classic coming of age novel set in Antigua (which is why I read it to be frank, my Caribbean family comes from two countries: Montserrat and Antigua, and I spent many a mosquitos-infested summer in that country scratching at my shins). There are a few themes that come up: mostly Independence and Gender, as well as Colonialism and Race/Ethnicity. Kincaid is very good at writing about tense, almost painful topics in a both blunt and soothing way. She’s honest but I don’t think anyone would ever find her books overtly painful or insulting to read. I particularly enjoy the bits about Annie’s interaction at school and the focus on education on this island (and in extension, many Caribbean countries) as a means of escape.

BlurbAnnie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua. A classic coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Kincaid’s novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie’s voice–urgent, demanding to be heard–is one that will not soon be forgotten by readers. An adored only child, Annie has until recently lived an idyllic life. She is inseparable from her beautiful mother, a powerful presence, who is the very center of the little girl’s existence. Loved and cherished, Annie grows and thrives within her mother’s benign shadow. Looking back on her childhood, she reflects, “It was in such a paradise that I lived.” When she turns twelve, however, Annie’s life changes, in ways that are often mysterious to her. She begins to question the cultural assumptions of her island world; at school she instinctively rebels against authority; and most frighteningly, her mother, seeing Annie as a “young lady,” ceases to be the source of unconditional adoration and takes on the new and unfamiliar guise of adversary. At the end of her school years, Annie decides to leave Antigua and her family, but not without a measure of sorrow, especially for the mother she once knew and never ceases to mourn. “For I could not be sure,” she reflects, “whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world.”

The Book of Night Women

 

There is a set sub genre in Caribbean literature that focuses on slavery and the strength of women under this oppression. Marlon James is an excellent writer but I don’t need to tell you that, he won the Man Booker Prize on October 13th for A Brief History of Seven Killings which has been on my TBR for some time.

I’ll be straight up- I grabbed this book because the main character is named Lilith, a name I absolutely love (I also love the name Jezebel which is maybe good that I don’t plan on ever having kids). The Book of Night Women is a fun and entertaining read that is deceptively smart. It touches on some painful parts of Jamaican history but doesn’t take away or banish notions of autonomy or strength, rather, the women in this book are imbued with strength and intelligence- so much so that it’s almost chilling.

Blurb: The Book of Night Women is a sweeping, startling novel, a true tour de force of both voice and storytelling. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they and she will come to both revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age and reveals the extent of her power, they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings and desires and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman in Jamaica, and risks becoming the conspiracy’s weak link.

Want To Read: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 

So this is a failing I’ve noticed in my reading: I tend, OK I focus a lot of my reading on the English speaking Caribbean and I’ve read a few set in the French Caribbean but I’ve completely ignored Spanish and Dutch speaking nations. I strive to remedy that in 2016 and as I go forth. Junot Diaz has been on my radar for some time, indeed, how hasn’t he- the dude is extremely famous and accomplished and I just need, somehow, to just get myself to read one of his books. Maybe I should make a trip to the library…

Blurb: This is the long-awaited first novel from one of the most original and memorable writers working today.

Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú — the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim – until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.

Have you read any of these? Or will you go read one?

NameClaire

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About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
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4 Responses to 4 Favourite Books Written by Caribbean Authors

  1. Oooh, I love this post. I read “Wide Sargasso Sea” earlier this year, before I’d started a book blog. There was a strong hint of eurocentrism in Jane Eyre, so I liked that “Wide Sargasso Sea” approached the same story from a sympathetic post-colonial perspective.

    “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is one of my new favorite books. It’s a bit jargon-y if you don’t read Spanish (half the book is in a kind of Spanglish without italics or explanation). Though I’m not Dominican, I grew up in a Spanish-speaking family of Caribbean origin, so I found this kind of code-switching delightful!

    • Claire (BWB) says:

      Growing up in a Spanish speaking family with Caribbean roots, do you have any other bookish suggestions? I’m ashamed that as a Caribbean only really have knowledge of the English side.But you sum up why I loved Wide sargasso Sea so elegantly! Can I just say I also love your website name. I’m running over now!

      • I’m only now discovering snippets of Caribbean (and South American) literature on my own, since in school most of the books I read were Anglophone in heritage.

        I did read another book by Junot Diaz, “This is How You Lose Her,” but I enjoyed it far less – it’s mostly a series of short stories told by a character I disliked in “Oscar Wao”.

        I hear good things about “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez, which is (like “Oscar Wao”) about the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Also on my to-read list is “Conquistadora” by Esmeralda Santiago, which is historical fiction set in 19th century Puerto Rico.

        • Claire (BWB) says:

          Oh that HF sounds good. There is a great fantasy/HF myster thriller set in South America that i read and loved but can’t remember at the moment… when I do I’ll tweet you! My coblogger loves the heck out of In The Time of the Butterflies, I need to read it as well!

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