“I have not and cannot promise that I will read all listed books. So, this is not a list of recommended reading” is something I say in the preamble to all the Antigua and Barbuda book lists I’ve built over the years on the Wadadli Pen blog. I let go of any guilt or obligation I felt about that a long time ago – time is short, I mostly read for pleasure these days. That said, I was getting set to share the fiction list (there’s a master list plus a breakdown by genre) on my facebook page as I do, I thought I’d spice up the share with some commentary and, yes, it got overlong for facebook; so here it is. The commentary focuses on books on from the Antigua and Barbuda fiction list that have brought me pleasure. I’m not sure it’s a favourites list (such things are never fixed anyway) but it is a pleasures list (because reading should be if not fun necessarily then spirit stirring somewhere along the spectrum of emotion, thought, and engagement).
The Legend of Bat’s Cave and Other Antiguan Stories by Barbara Arrindell – it is still the kind of book that would be a good way for young readers (upper primary, say) to touch Antiguan-Barbudan history (fictionalized history). My favourite story is the most personal one about, as I remember it, an idyllic childhood being shattered by loss and a dream being tripped by societal misogyny. I remember loving the way it sets the scene – that scene being early 20th century Antigua – in a way that gives me a window to a subtly different time. My second favourite story in this collection is the one about the kidnapping of Governor Warner’s wife by Kalinago during the early days of colonialism and the plausible rendering of the mythology of the underground caves connecting the islands and such, and remember being struck by the lonely fate of Warner’s wife. The way these stories simplify some non-marquee stories from history is infinitely more interesting than the study of dates and such that was largely my experience of learning history. Incidentally, I’ve used my least favourite story in the collection as a physical and imaginative reference point in my first Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project workshop. I remember one of the participants in that workshop announcing a year later in another youth writing workshop (this one focused on media) that I had taken them to a cemetery (yikes) – actually I’d taken them to Big Church, the St. John’s Cathedral, which features in the first story (sort of – the story is about the earthquake that demolished it; so it is about a young Anglican priest facing the challenge of rebuilding this iconic church…which has an attached graveyard this is also something of a social space in Antigua).
London Rocks by Brenda Lee Browne – I’m actually re-reading London Rocks by Brenda Lee Browne as I haven’t read it since editing it well before it was published. I’ve always rooted for the character of Dante and liked, still liking, the atmospheric quality of the toasting scenes, how the writer captures and renders those spaces, and the use of language generally. This book in my view could easily work as a film inquiring into spaces and telling a story from a particular point of view not usually scene in big Hollywood films. The character’s restlessness, his grappling with the racism of his (English) environment, the dance of love, and the searching for self between two worlds.
Considering Venus by D. Gisele Isaac – I still think there’s no book quite like it – and I still think that it has been overlooked by the canon (for no other reason than the writer comes from a small place and the book was issued by a small press). It is ahead of its time when it comes to exploring fluidity with respect to sexuality – not to mention middle-aged love, orgasms and all (and in that showcasing Black women being unapologetically sexual) – and yet it’s also about home and family and that gender-charged word, agency. It’s a very bold book.
Unburnable by Marie Elena John – This book is epic in a number of ways digging in to Amerindian, African Caribbean, and Catholic history in telling the story of a particular woman’s story – and in so doing, the story of the women who came before her, but also in a way the making of an island rife with conflicts and contradictions. Its vivid and layered sense of place from the forests to the Carnival make for a very lush reading experience.
(me reading Lucy in New York, Photo my Mali A. Olatunji)
Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid – I could’ve just as easily picked other Kincaid works I found myself caught up with at this point or other, and especially Annie John because it was my first and is so evocative and fearless, but I chose Lucy because I found the reading of it enjoyable in a way that I did not See Now Then or Mr. Potter or My Brother – all of which I had interesting interactions with (so I like them as well though for different, more complex reasons). Lucy and Annie are different people and yet Lucy feels like Annie’s story (and for that matter the girl in Kincaid’s short story Girl) if Annie had escaped the island and the ways it defined and pinned her down, and found a new freedom to explore and discover herself for herself…in New York. It just so happened that I read it in New York, in the parks, on the train, in a Harlem apartment, and surely that impacted my experience of it as surely as the familiarity of Annie’s world did my experience of that book. Also, the way her words flow like river water…refreshing.
Ladies of the Night by Althea Prince – I could also add edited fictional works like In the Black and So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End (which is not purely fictional) which I also enjoyed. I could have chosen as well Loving this Man which moves between the lives of these different women from the same family here and in Canada. But Ladies of the Night is pure joy and an almost perfect read – split as it is in to individual stories of complex and interesting girls and women, very specifically Antiguan women for the most part. From burgeoning sexuality to infidelity this book belongs in any discourse involving womanist fiction because it is that surely as Sula, The Colour Purple, Their Eyes were watching God, et al. And it is as well written in my view.
So there you have it; some books from the Antigua and Barbuda fiction list that brought me pleasure.
It also gave me pleasure to write my latest CREATIVE SPACE which is about an event featuring Man Booker winning author Marlon James. Check it out.
My books of fiction are on the Antigua and Barbuda fiction list as well; hope you’ll check them out too.