In June, we commemorate National Caribbean Heritage Month. During this month, we celebrate the diversity that our Caribbean brothers and sisters bring to our country. It is estimated that the Caribbean-American population of the United States is almost 13.2 million (June 2018 Census data). The vast majority of our Caribbean brothers and sisters come from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, along with other smaller islands like Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. In this blog, we highlight some short stories and novels that share the folklore, history, and magic of these islands and their people. These stories portray lives, struggles, and joys all with the energy and flavor that characterize life in the Caribbean.
Short Stories – How to Love a Jamaican
(From Overdrive)Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.
In “Light-Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a couple leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital. Alexia Arthurs emerges in this vibrant, lyrical, intimate collection as one of fiction’s most dynamic and essential authors.
Novel – Patsy
(From Overdrive) Nicole Dennis-Benn introduces readers to an unforgettable heroine for our times: the eponymous Patsy, who leaves her young daughter behind in Jamaica to follow Cicely, her oldest friend, to New York. Beating with the pulse of a long-withheld confession and peppered with lilting patois, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to love whomever she chooses, bravely putting herself first. But to survive as an undocumented immigrant, Patsy is forced to work as a nanny, while back in Jamaica her daughter, Tru, ironically struggles to understand why she was left behind. Greeted with international critical acclaim from readers who, at last, saw themselves represented in Patsy, this astonishing novel “fills a literary void with compassion, complexity and tenderness” (Joshunda Sanders, Time), offering up a vital portrait of the chasms between selfhood and motherhood, the American dream and reality.
Novel – A Brief History of Seven Killings
(From Overdrive) On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.
Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 1970s, to the crack wars in 1980s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 1990s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.
Short Stories – This is How You Lose Her
(From Overdrive) Junot Diaz’s new collection, This Is How You Lose Her, is a collection of linked narratives about love – passionate love, illicit love, dying love, maternal love – told through the lives of New Jersey Dominicans, as they struggle to find a point where their two worlds meet. In prose that is endlessly energetic and inventive, tender and funny, it lays bare the infinite longing and inevitable weaknesses of the human heart. Most of all, these stories remind us that the habit of passion always triumphs over experience and that ‘love, when it hits us for real, has a half-life of forever.’
Novel – In the Time of the Butterflies
(From Hoopla) It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas-The Butterflies.” In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters-Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé-speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human cost of political oppression.
Novel – The Brief And Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
(From Overdrive) Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.
Novel – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
A beautifully written, unforgettable novel of a troubled marriage, set against the lush landscape and political turmoil of Trinidad. Monique Roffey’s Orange Prize-shortlisted novel is a gripping portrait of post-colonialism that stands among great works by Caribbean writers like Jamaica Kincaid and Andrea Levy. When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England, George is immediately seduced by the beguiling island, while Sabine feels isolated, heat-fatigued, and ill-at-ease. As they adapt to new circumstances, their marriage endures for better or worse, despite growing political unrest and racial tensions that affect their daily lives. But when George finds a cache of letters that Sabine has hidden from him, the discovery sets off a devastating series of consequences as other secrets begin to emerge.
Novel – Land of Love and Drowning
(From Hoopla) A major debut from an award-winning writer– an epic family saga set against the magic and the rhythms of the Virgin Islands. In the early 1900s an important ship sank into the Caribbean Sea, just as the Virgin Islands were transferred from Danish to American rule. Orphaned by the sunk vessel are two sisters and their half-brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them. Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Wholly unique, with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the author’ s own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evokes an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut by an exciting, prize-winning young writer.
Novel – Breath, Eyes, Memory
(From Hoopla) At 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.
Novel – How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House
(From Overdrive) In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister. It’s a cautionary tale, about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers and go into Baxter’s Tunnels. When she’s grown, Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven into the Tunnels by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom – and their lives.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is an intimate and visceral portrayal of interconnected lives, across race and class, in a rapidly changing resort town, told by an astonishing new author of literary fiction.
Short Stories – Love War Stories
(From Overdrive) Puerto Rican girls are brought up to want one thing: true love. Yet they are raised by women whose lives are marked by broken promises, grief, and betrayal. While some believe that they’ll be the ones to finally make it work, others swear not to repeat cycles of violence. This collection documents how these “love wars” break out across generations as individuals find themselves caught in the crosshairs of romance, expectations, and community
Novel – The House on the Lagoon
(From Overdrive) This riveting, multigenerational epic tells the story of two families and the history of Puerto Rico through the eyes of Isabel Monfort and her husband, Quintín Mendizabal. Isabel attempts to immortalize their now-united families—and, by extension, their homeland—in a book. The tale that unfolds in her writing has layers upon layers, exploring the nature of love, marriage, family, and Puerto Rico itself.
Weaving the intimate with the expansive on a teeming stage, Ferré crafts a revealing self-portrait of a man and a woman, two fiercely independent people searching for meaning and identity. As Isabel declares: “Nothing is true, nothing is false, everything is the color of the glass you’re looking through.”
A book about freeing oneself from societal and cultural constraints, The House on the Lagoon also grapples with bigger issues of life, death, poverty, and racism. Mythological in its breadth and scope, this is a masterwork from an extraordinary storyteller.
Short Stories – The Tower of the Antilles
(From Overdrive) The Cubans in Achy Obejas’s story collection The Tower of the Antilles are haunted by an island: the island they fled, the island they’ve created, the island they were taken to or forced from, the island they long for, the island they return to, and the island that can never be home again.
In “Supermán,” several possible story lines emerge about a 1950s Havana sex-show superstar who disappeared as soon as the revolution triumphed. “North/South” portrays a migrant family trying to cope with separation, lives on different hemispheres, and the eventual disintegration of blood ties. “The Cola of Oblivion” follows the path of a young woman who returns to Cuba, and who inadvertently uncorks a history of accommodation and betrayal among the family members who stayed behind during the revolution. In the title story, “The Tower of the Antilles,” an interrogation reveals a series of fantasies about escape and a history of futility.With language that is both generous and sensual, Obejas writes about lives beset by events beyond individual control, and poignantly captures how history and fate intrude on even the most ordinary of lives.
Short Stories – We Came all the way from Cuba so you could dress like this?
(From Overdrive)Achy Obejas writes stories about uprooted people. Some, like herself, are Latino immigrants and lesbians; others are men (gay and straight), people with AIDS, addicts, people living marginally, just surviving. As omniscient narrator to her characters’ lives, Obejas generously delves into her own memories of exile and alienation to tell stories about women and men who struggle for wholeness and love.