Reading Women Celebrates Caribbean Heritage Month
Kendra Winchester and Jaclyn Masters in Conversation About
This Month's Theme
For June’s theme, Kendra, Jaclyn, and special guest Laura discuss books for Caribbean Heritage Month!
From the episode:
Jaclyn: Our first pick is Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta. I had both the print edition, which is out from House of Anansi, and I also listened to it via audiobook, and that is narrated by Ordena Stevens-Thompson. I loved the narration. I’d highly recommend it. If you’re looking to listen to a book this month, I’d recommend checking out this one. So this is a debut collection of interconnected short stories. And I mention that specifically because I know when you mention short stories sometimes people don’t often think it’s the most accessible form of storytelling. And a lot of people might be put off by the structure. But I think when they’re interconnected, there’s often like a novel aspect to reading it. So if you’re new to reading short stories, this is one I would definitely recommend checking out particularly.
So this one is following a teen, Kara Davis, over the course of a few years. And it’s set in Eglinton West neighborhood of Toronto in Little Jamaica. We’re following Kara over this series of years in her teens. So there’s a lot of coming-of-age themes. There’s lots of tensions between mothers and daughters. Her grandmother. There’s a lot of discussions around Canadians. And first, generational cultural expectations and also some really interesting thematic and also like literal plot discussions around Black identity in a predominantly white society. So this is a collection that I really enjoyed. And I think, given that we were following Kara over this series of years, you really feel like you get to grow with her as a character.
There was just a quote in the title short story, which is actually one of the last in the collection, where Kara is in the kitchen with her nana. And she’s cooking. And it just . . . to me, it really kind of tied together so many of these themes about female relationships in the book in a way that I think a lot of people will relate to. So I’ll just read briefly from the book. “Nana’s frown relaxes when she puts her knife to the plantain. And even though I don’t want to be impressed by the way she slices off the skin, the way she peels plantain has always impressed me. The blade just slides through like nothing. There’s no sign of effort or struggle. I don’t see the blade target the toughness of the skin like when I do it. This looks easy. This looks like the plantain is undressing itself. The kind of content mindlessness passes over Nana’s face, making me feel a gentle uncertainty towards her that makes me uncomfortable.”
Then there’s a discussion that kind of follows where she’s talking about how her mother cooks as well. And the discussion goes off into a sort of a bit of a different tangent from the cooking one. But I thought it carried that conversation really well. And I think it was just a really apt way of tying up so many things and themes that had come up throughout the entire collection. So I really can’t recommend this one highly enough. It was a great read. It was a relatively short one as well. I think it was only a couple of hours on audiobook. So that again was Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta from House of Anansi. And Kendra, I think you’ve got the next book for us.
Kendra: Yes. So this is a book that I picked up at SIBA last year, which is the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. This is These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card. So Maisy Card is Jamaican American. And so she wrote this book, and this is her debut novel. This follows a family that is kind of split because the patriarch of the family, he leaves Jamaica and goes to the UK . . . kind of fakes his death when someone else dies, and he takes over that person’s identity and then starts a new family. And then right when he is about to pass away, the families discover each other. And so it’s like looking at the dynamics of this family. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, a different family member. So it jumps around in time. You see the different family members’ perspectives. And what happened to both of the families throughout history. There’s also a subplot of a white woman who discovers that her ancestor was a plantation owner in Jamaica. And she goes to Jamaica to try to figure out her background and meets one of the family members and marries him. And it’s a super complicated kind of story in a very short amount of space. I really loved how this book played with genres in a lot of different ways. There’s this one section near the end where it’s like this mystery of these girls’ disappearance, and it is fantastical in the way that she tells it. And so I really loved how she moves through the story and, you know, how we carry a lot of the baggage that our ancestors have given us through various means. I won’t tell you why that is because that’ll be a spoiler. But I was really fascinated by the family in the story. And Jaclyn, you also read this book.
Jaclyn: I did. I really liked how each perspective you were getting felt complete in its own. But there was also these, like, threads that ran through all the stories and connected them. I thought it was really clever that way structurally.
Kendra: It was like you were almost reading super-connected short stories because of how different each section was. And oftentimes perspectives can sound way too similar. And that’s, you know, a pitfall that authors could fall into. But every single section sounded very different.
Jaclyn: Yeah, there was a very distinct narrative voice, which I think was just so well written.
Kendra: And I think she did so well with that, with this being her debut novel. And I’ve seen her do a lot different virtual events with other debut authors. And so it’s been pretty great to see how this all plays out in the book. And we’re very much looking forward to it. And I’ve seen . . . actually, Cindy—who we’ve already talked about #ReadCaribbean—she had a book club around this book in May. And you can still go check out her posts about this book on her Instagram and different things. So definitely go check that out. But I really enjoyed this book. I’ll be definitely looking to see what Maisy Card writes next because just the dynamics of the family and her skill at writing the narrative in the way that she has is amazing. I will say my favorite is the actual end section where there’s like this mystery that this Jamaican American detective is kind of trying to solve. He goes back to Jamaica, and they called him in to solve the missing girls’ disappearance. And it definitely did not turn out how you think it is going to turn out.
Jaclyn: And this was great. This was great on audio as well.
Kendra: Yes! Yes. I was very impressed by the audio and was just. Yeah. You think you know where the book is going? But that’s not where it goes. And that’s basically the refrain of most of the book. So definitely check out These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card. And you won’t be sorry. It is just . . . it’s definitely a wild ride. And Jaclyn, you have our first discussion pick.
Jaclyn: Yes. So our first discussion pick, which we will talk about a lot more on our next episode, is The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins. This one is out from Harper, here in the US. And I first heard about this one when a lot of UK readers were posting about it because it won the Costa Book Awards First Novel Award in 2019. And I actually read this with Cindy as part of her @BookofCinz Book Club. So I had the benefit of having so many readers comment and read this and discuss it as we were going through, which I loved. But this one’s a really exciting one because it plays with structure in a really non-linear way and uses this confession format to tell the narrative of Frannie Langton. And it also uses things like legal transcripts and court documents. So it’s really clever on that level. And it’s just a super-fascinating story that you kind of feel like you’re hearing about as the protagonist is hearing about it in real time in her life. So that is The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, and it is out from Harper here in the US.
And Kendra, you have our second discussion pick.
Kendra: Yeah. So our second discussion pick is Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid. And this was first published in 1990. And I think most people, when they think of Caribbean writing, oftentimes they think of Jamaica Kincaid. But I’d never read her before. And she is from Antigua. And we’re going to talk about this next time in our discussion episode. But, you know, certain countries in the Caribbean are represented more than others. And I had never read an author from Antigua before. So I was just like, oh, very excited to get into this book. And, you know, when I was looking for a discussion pick, I didn’t really know where to go. I’d been reading all of these things, but nothing like really spoke to me with a lot of depth that you really want for discussion pick. And I was talking to C Pam Zhang about her recommendations in the interview that we did with her. And she recommended this book. And I was like, oh, this is perfect. And Jamaica Kincaid’s prose is just as amazing as Pam said it was. And LUCY is about this young woman. She’s like 19 or 20. And she moved to America and becomes a nanny for these kids. And she’s also like a maid, kind of live-in housekeeper kind of person. And it’s just her story. And there’s like zero plot to the book. But I was absolutely fascinated because it’s more of a character study of Lucy and her experience moving from the West Indies to New York City and like seeing the immense amount of privilege this family has. But I think the biggest thing about this book that I was impressed by was its prose and how Jamaica Kincaid told entire stories with single sentences. And I would just reread sections and just be like, this is amazing. She told an entire story in this short amount of space. And I was deeply impressed by that because, like, how do you even do that?
Jaclyn: I think she just had such a way of observation. I think that was what it was for me in those descriptions. What she was observing was just so well articulated and just had such a unique angle. I thought she just nailed it. It was beautiful to read.
Kendra: And, you know, I read this book, and it’s only a hundred and like sixty-four pages. This paperback edition I have is from FSG. And it feels, though, much longer because she has such . . . I don’t want to use “dense” because that’s not the right word. But she has so much meaning and communicates so many things so articulately that it feels like you’re reading a much bigger, longer story. And so I was so impressed by this book and so happy that Pam recommended it to me. So many thanks to her. So next time, we are going to talk about this book and some of the themes in it as part of our discussion episode, which I am very much looking forward to.
Jaclyn: Very much.
This episode is brought to you by Penguin Random House Audio.