A Book Back

books 2018My novel Oh Gad! will be six years published this year. If a book was a child, she’d be a first grader. Damn. I had high hopes when it came out too. It was my second act and my first full length novel after two earlier releases. My first to crack the US market. Hell, yeah I had high hopes. You would think I’ve since learned to manage my expectations, right? Nah, son, I still have high hopes. Against the odds. I’m hard-headed like that. #TheWritingLife ETA: Shortly after I wrote this, this happened (the author specifically referencing Oh Gad!) – 10 Female Caribbean Authors You Should Know And Add To Your American Lit Syllabus – life (and publishing) is full of suprrises.

Here’s an excerpt:

Before Nikki was a motley crew – curious expats mixed in with home-grown Rastafarians, academics mixed in with area farmers, grey heads and chinee bumps, and the odd politician. It was not only a larger, but a more diverse crowd than she had anticipated.

A part of her dared hope, as she glimpsed some of the Blackman’s Ridge project’s staunchest opponents in the crowd, that this could be the bridge between the warring factions. That was the goal, anyway. She’d tried to get Cam to come, but he’d scoffed at the very idea. “Make mosquito nyam me up all night,” he’d laughed. “For what? I don’t hold to all that ancestors crap.  Black people hang on to slavery too much, if you ask me. Is that keeping them down. I’m a practical man. I live in today. Anybody who know me, know that. For me to go up there would be a bold faced lie; and I never lie.”

The night’s programme consisted of a drum call and dub poetry. At midnight, the dawning of Emancipation Day, August Monday, when Antigua’s enslaved Africans got their first taste of freedom back in 1834, plastic cups were passed around, and libations sipped and poured out ritualistically in honour of these survivors and the many more non-survivors. Tanty had insisted on that and mixed up the “bebbridge” herself.

Everyone got a chance to enter the dungeon, in pairs and threes; some emerged quickly and unscathed, others were visibly moved by the experience of being stooped and confined in the small space.

As Sadie began her oral history of the dungeon, of slaves imprisoned for infractions, imagined or real, a reporter from one of the local stations, ignoring the mean look she shot him, stuck a recorder in her face.

“…many died here sick with their own fear as it come through their skin and full up the air ‘round them ‘til they were breathing their own stink,” Sadie said. “Not a lot of new air could get in ‘round the heavy door they had barring the entrance. Only tiny cracks leave back for insects to crawl through and torment them to the last. As for them that survive, there was madness or relief, relief that sucked at their fight and spirit…”

Nikki found herself seduced by Sadie’s words and her voice, as she spoke with previously unheard serenity and authority.

A noise cut through the night: A bone deep, belly full moan. It was Tanty, swaying, eyes tightly shut. Nikki reached an arm toward her, then hesitated.

Tanty’s moan cut through her. Not like a knife. Like waves, curling beautifully in and into her, relentlessly. Nikki sighed and even cried a little; the moment, the long moments, overwhelming her, filling her with both sadness and joy. She felt like she was being filled and emptied at the same time, like she’d eaten too much and yet not enough.

The scent of roasting cashews, which Tanty had insisted on, perfumed the night air.

Nikki had been concerned about fire spreading but then Audrey had, unexpectedly, donated a couple of coal pots which allowed them to contain the fire. And as the scent now wafted out, the moaning swelled, continuing to fill the gaps; a chorus for Sadie’s chronicle which ended with a roll call of Antiguan martyrs and heroes from King Court to V.C. Bird. Here and there, there were tears. As Sadie’s voice, hoarse now, faded, the drums once again took over, taking on the timbre of Tanty’s unabashed moaning.  The drum talk took them into fore day morning, as the Antiguans called those hours just before day break. It was then, in that in-between time, that Nikki came back to herself as if from a blissful dream. She caught snatches of it, of being inside the dungeon, of not being afraid, though shadows and light, ancestral spirits, danced across the jewel-like stones along the cave wall, Tanty’s voice reminding her that she was from their blood and they wouldn’t do her no harm. As even memory faded, Nikki opened her eyes to the sight of pale light now spreading across the sky, and discovered that she was leaning against Belle’s shoulder as her sister sat still as a rock.

*

Related Oh Gad! posts

Launch gallery
First pages
What the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books had to say about Oh Gad!
Oh Gad! Presents a Compelling Slice of Island Life (NPR)
Reviews
Antigua and Barbuda historical spaces in Oh Gad!
(Another) Oh Gad! excerpt
All Joanne C. Hillhouse Books

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