Friday, May 22, 2015

Literary Goodness

There’s so much literary goodness going on right now! If you missed something, here are a few highlights:

The Warmth of Other Suns, better known as the book that I never wanted to end, will be adapted into a historical drama television series! You may remember Isabel Wilkerson made my list of Authors That I Hope Are Writing Another Book. There’s no news on when the series will air, but I will be following this closely.

 Roots is undergoing a makeover and will return to television next year. Two of the original actors from the book’s television debut, back in 1977, are playing a major role in writing the remake. I am not a fan of big books, but I really feel like this is the time to finally read this one. My paperback copy has been collecting dust for a shamefully long time. I guess someone decided the same of their hardback. I snatched it right up when I saw it at one of my favorite used bookstores.  

The Brief History of Seven Killings by Jamaican novelist Marlon James is becoming a television series thanks to HBO. The book received a slew of accolades last year. I decided that I wouldn’t read it after attending the book tour, but I guess I should reconsider...

The date is set for the release of Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book! He's another author that made my list of Authors That I Hope Are Writing Another Book. His memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, is a beautiful story. It's a book for readers. So when I learned that he'd be speaking at Loyola University's 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr Convocation, I made time to go to the event. He was speaking about his highly acclaimed article "The Case For Reparations." It was the highest attended event in the history of the ceremony!

His first novel Between the World and Me will hit shelves on September 8th. It's about an interracial family in pre-Civil War Virginia. Wait until you have a look at the description for this book on Amazon!

Do you know of any exciting literary news!?

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The Warmth of Other Suns on Amazon
Roots: The Saga of an American Family on Amazon
A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel on Amazon
Between the World and Me on Amazon

Monday, May 18, 2015

Part 1 Recap: Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival (Bocas Lit Fest)

The Business of Translation 

The first session I attended had a panel of industry professionals give their inside perspective on the publishing world’s view of translation. I’ve only read one translated book, I think, So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, and I wondered how close the translation came to capturing the sentiments of the author. However, I did not consider that all translations are not created equal. Although it seemed obvious after it was said. 

Johnny Temple, Founder of Akashic Books, emphasized the point by saying, “In order to translate Gabriel García Márquez [the world-renowned Colombian novelist whose book One Hundred Years of Solitude is on my high priority list] you need a translator of Gabriel García Márquez caliber.” This left me itching to ask the question, and I finally got a chance to do so, how do you know if you’re getting a good translation!? Literary translator Frank Wynne’s response was golden, “Pick up a book, read the first ten pages. If it doesn't work, either you hate the author, or you hate the translation.” 

L to R: Johnny Temple, Ria Julien, Frank Wynne
The notion of First World countries accepting other world literature entered the discussion. After two of the panelists made remarks about inclusivity, Temple interjected emphatically, “In America, African American Literature is separated from “regular” literature which is an abomination, since the best writer in the world is Toni Morrison.” How much do you love that! 

Temple went on to mention the Akashic Noir Series whose manuscripts require that people write stories about the towns that they know, the places they grew up in. And not stories of transplants writing about places they now call home. Several of those books have found their way to my to-read list.

The Unknown Eric Roach

There was a thoughtful tribute to poet and playwright Eric Roach where several authors read their favorite poems by Roach. The Tobagonian was certainly unknown to me and other than an article published by Caribbean Review of Books in 2010, a web search didn’t uncover much. To me, this confirmed the need for the session.

L to R:  Laurence Breiner, Danielle Gianetti, Andre Bagoo, Kenneth Ramchand, Earl Lovelace

The audience was informed that the University of the West Indies holds Roach manuscripts that need attention. The organizers stated that their goal was to have someone leave the tribute having been inspired to write about Roach. And that maybe someone would even be inspired to write his biography.

The tribute was encouraged by legendary Trinidadian novelist Earl Lovelace who knew Roach personally and subsequently became a student of his work. Lovelace closed the session by saying, “I think, basically, we should look at Roach again.” Thanks to the festival, I’ll be having a look for the first time. The organizers are planning a more elaborate celebration for later in the year. 

If you asked a question  that didn't get answered here, Part 2 Recap is coming...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I'm Back From the Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival (Bocas Lit Fest)!

 Lit Fest swag!!

I’m back in the swing of things after an amazing trip to Trinidad. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to do much writing. I hope to finish a series of posts on the festival this weekend, but I don’t want to leave you hanging until next week!

Attending the Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival makes my list of best decisions ever. I’ve been to several book festivals stateside, but this book festival was is my favorite. Here’s why: 

  1. Location. Location. Location. Trinidad is a beautiful place. It took two days to figure out how to use public transit but once we got it, it was very efficient. It turns out we didn’t need to use it much! More on that below.
  2. The authors are accessible. This is the festival’s fifth year. So it’s still relatively new and small. Plus the venue is set up so that all events are in close proximity. It seemed as if there were as many authors as there were attendees! Look to your left or right at any given moment, and your favorite author might be standing beside you!
  3. The readings are dynamic. This wasn’t a festival where you listen to an author read from their book and then listen to them talk about it for thirty minutes. Many of the readings were done as sessions. The sessions had intriguing, creative, and cerebral topics directly related to the genre of the authors’ books.
  4. Literature lovers can unite. As mentioned above, the conference was small. So not only was it easy to interact with the authors, it was easy to interact with other literature lovers. I met two attendees that were there from New York and I plan to reconnect with them at the Brooklyn and/or Harlem Book Festivals!
Many thanks to Robert for showing us around Trinidad!

You may remember I attended the festival with Jacqueline. Well, she went for a walk one morning and met Robert, a Trinidadian. Robert volunteered to drive us all over Trinidad. I asked him about Blanchisseuse, one of Trinidad’s villages. It sparked a conversation that eventually led him to say, “Oh, you know the place?” To which I replied, “No, I’ve just read about it.” Ha! It's true. I had never been to Trinidad. I'd only read about it in Lauren Francis Sharma’s Til the Well Run’s Dry! Reading truly does take you places; believe it!
Yours truly with Prince and Jacqueline
I can’t remember how we met Sheldon, but he took us to one of the best restaurants in Port of Spain. The next day, we wanted him to take us to the beach. He wasn’t available so he called his friend to take us. About two hours later, we were in the car with Prince, headed to Maracas Beach! If you ever make it to Trinidad, you must go to Maracas. The ride there is actually more impressive than the beach itself. The views are breathtaking and it's where I was able to capture the shot above. But since this is a book blog, I won't carry on about our fortuitous adventures.  

I'll be posting about the festival next week. If there are any question you want me to answer, drop them in the comments below! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Redemption in Indigo: A Novel by Karen Lord

Redemption in Indigo is the third of four books I chose to read in preparation for the Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival which, by the way, starts today!!! I’m glad I didn’t skip it which I thought about doing to read Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, but I’ll get to in the next few weeks. I was not familiar with Karen Lord before learning that she’s attending the festival. The author was born in Barbados and resides there now.  

When the story opens, Paama has left her gluttonous husband Asinge and returned to the home of her parents. Asinge goes to her village to bring her back, but his self-indulgent actions lead to a series of blunders that leave the people of Paama’s village applauding her for leaving her foolish husband. Unbeknownst to Paama and Asinge, Asinge’s actions are being manipulated by spirits.

Meanwhile, the spirit Indigo Lord loses his power, chaos, as punishment for past actions. Indigo Lord becomes upset when other spirits tell him that his power has been given to a human. Indigo Lord wants his power back and sets out to find the person who has received it. After doing sloppy research, Indigo Lord mistakenly concludes that his power was given to Paama’s sister when, in fact, the power has been given to Paama in the form of a Chaos Stick.  

The situation comes to an anticlimactic plateau, but things remain interesting as Indigo Lord learns that taking back his power is not as simple as taking away the Chaos Stick. So he kidnaps Paama and the journey of him convincing her to return his power begins. During their time together, Paama has a revelation about her husband’s actions that leads her back to him.

The book contains countless other characters and we don’t get to know any of them intimately. Some exit the story as quickly as they enter. But that doesn’t distract from the huge lessons packaged in the tiny chapters. With the simplicity of the delivery and the fable-like quality, a seasoned reader doesn’t have to be attentive to catch most things. I even double-checked to make sure this wasn’t a young adult book.

Redemption in Indigo was a fun and quick read. Although I’m learning to appreciate speculative fiction, I must say, I’m not a fan of some aspects. Spirits occupying the body of animals, which I also observed in The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson is a bit of a distraction to me. Since I’m new to the genre, I’m not sure if that’s par for the course, but I hope to avoid this type of theme in future. I looked at Lord’s other novels and I’m not sure I’d enjoy them as much as this one. That may change after I attend her book reading on Friday. She and Nalo Hopkinson are doing a session together!

“And yet, as the undying ones know and as humans too often forget, even chaos cannot overcome the power of choice.”  
Redemption in Indigo

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Redemption in Indigo: a novel on Amazon
View all by Lord on Amazon

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

The Salt Roads is the first of four books I chose to read in preparation for Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival. Nalo Hopkinson was not on my radar before I learned that she was a festival attendee. Her press kit indicates that she born in Jamaica. She has lived in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana and for the past 35 years in Canada. She is the author of six novels, a short story collection, and a small poetry collection. 

The Salt Roads opens in St. Domingue on a sugar plantation. There we meet Mer, a slave and healer. Learning how Mer makes potions to cure varying ailments of the slaves is fascinating. And I got a few laughs from her interactions with Ti-Bois, a slave child who follows behind her learning the craft. But there is tension between Mer and Makandal, a slave with the ability to transform himself into animals. Makandal wants the slaves to revolt while Mer opposes any idea that may bring harsh punishments to them. Makandal thinks that no punishment is worse than their current plight.Things go terribly wrong once Makandal convinces a small group to go along with the plan.

We meet Jeanne, a third generation “entertainer,” in Paris. She hopes that Charles, a rich writer, will decide to marry her since she now relies on him to support herself and help her purchase medicines for her aging mother. When Jeanne is not entertaining Charles or taking care of her mother, she is with her lover and friend Lisette who is also an entertainer. The dynamics of Charles and Jeanne's relationship takes a shocking turn when Jeanne falls ill and decides that Charles's money isn't enough for her to be happy.

We eventually come to know Thias who lives in Egypt. She’s a young prostitute that decides to run away but upon making it to her destination, she decides she has no choice but to continue using her body to pay her way. Unfortunately, I started losing patience with the book shortly after Thias is introduced.

As the narrative vacillates between the three sets of characters, the connection comes through the gods that occupy the characters' bodies. But I felt like the movement between storylines was unbalanced. I missed some characters while reading about others and the third set of characters seemed to come out of nowhere, appearing late in the book.

I wasn't aware that two of the storylines follow characters that are sex workers. So I didn’t expect there to be so many sex scenes. In addition, Hopkinson includes heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual interactions which I think is uncommon for one book and for a book set in the times of this one.

The verdict is still out for me on this author, but you can sign me up for more speculative fiction, including Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring and my current read Redemption in Indigo.  If you have recommendations, leave them in the comments!

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Monday, April 27, 2015

How to Escape from a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique

How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories is the second of four books I chose to read in preparation for the Trinidad and Tobago Literary festival. I almost decided to skip the third and fourth books after finishing this one because I wanted to dive right into Yanique’s novel, Land of Love and Drowning.

I read many sections in these stories that made me pause, close the book, close my eyes, and just sit with it. And that’s how it took me ten days to read a book that could’ve been read in two. “Fresh new voice” sounds clichè but it’s true; her writing is refreshing.

The hodgepodge of characters was refreshing as well. With many of them being immigrants, or the children of immigrants to the Caribbean, they are exceptionally diverse in race and religious backgrounds. Observing how these individuals bond or separate based on these differences adds depth to the stories.Then there are moments you completely forget you are reading about people that have differences at all.

I believe that nothing under the sun is new. So the originality in some of these stories was pleasantly surprising. As if the stories themselves weren’t captivating enough, I was enthralled by method she uses to tell the last two. The same setting is visited three times but from the point of view of three different characters. As you read, and think back, it changes your opinion of them from when they were first introduced. You reassess the things they said, the things they did. It made me think about a familiar saying, one that probably isn’t familiar enough, “It’s hard to hate someone if you know their story.”

How to Escape from a Leper Colony, the first short story in the book, was the winner of Boston Review’s short story contest and is published on its website. The story, set on Chacachacare Island, is where we meet a fourteen year old girl sent there to bury her father and because she had become a leper. I plan to visit Chacachacare Island this week. It is now abandoned.

I had not heard of this book, published in 2010, before doing a search for books by authors attending the festival. I’m glad I found it only five years after its release instead of fifteen or twenty! Although it has its flaws, I almost forgot what those were because of all the good.  I’ll have a front row seat when she does her book reading on Saturday. 

“He runs his hands along the coffin in the show window...It must cost ten thousand dollars...He wonders if it is the kind of coffin he could be buried in. If he is worth this kind of thing or if he can simply afford this kind of thing - which is sometimes the same and sometimes different depending on whom you are talking to.” How to Escape from a Leper Colony

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How to Escape from a Leper Colony on Amazon
View all by Yanique on Amazon

Monday, April 13, 2015

Author Event with Lawrence Hill

January turned into the month of reading Lawrence Hill after being swept away by The Book of Negroes, my first read of the year. I finished all three of his novels that same month. And this month, I finally got to see the man himself!

I could’ve listened to him talk for hours! He is such a vessel of knowledge. Hill discussed the amount of research required to pull the book together and he did rely on some experts. He had many connections, having been a journalist, and wasn't bashful about calling them up.

Hill wanted to write The Book of Negroes for some time but didn't think he was ready to do so before he did. Once he said that, I thought about the love that oozes from the narrative, and it became obvious that this story was nurtured. I asked myself, if I had a story this captivating in me, could I have waited until the right time to share it with people. I truly believe he has been rewarded for his patience, and so have we. 

He received other offers to adapt the book into a movie, but he wanted to give it to someone whose work he could trust. Authors have little say once they sign on the dotted line. After astutely waiting for an ideal time to write the book, it only made sense that he would take his time when handing it over to be made into a movie.

Someone asked about the book’s US title, Someone Knows My Name. It came about when bookstores were not ordering copies of the book with the original title. But when the novel became a miniseries,using The Book of Negroes as the title, naysayers quickly warmed up to the idea and the US publisher is reissuing the book with the original title.

Hill’s fourth novel and tenth book,The Illegal, will be released in Canada on September 1, 2015 and in the US in early 2016. According to the HarperCollins press release: Lawrence Hill says, “I have been thinking about the lives of undocumented refugees since meeting Sudanese expatriates in West Berlin in the 1980s. In Canada, the United States and around the world, millions of people have to survive with a huge question mark over their lives. Will they be deported? Persecuted? Executed? What do their lives look like while they are hiding in rich nations and trying, against all odds, to get on with their lives? These questions became my obsession and the inspiration for The Illegal.

This. Sounds. Awesome!!! I don't usually request advanced review copies of books, but this may be a worthy occasion. 

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The Book of Negroes/Someone Knows My Name on Amazon
View all by Hill on Amazon

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival (Bocas Lit Fest)

After an exciting literary year in 2014, I decided to kick it up a notch. The 2015 Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival is taking place at the end of the month. And I’ll be there! Thanks to the suggestion by Jacqueline, who blogs at The Big Sea, April will be devoted to reading books by authors that will attend the festival. And Jacqueline will be there too!

The Caribbean literature I’ve read was set in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, including The Farming of Bones, the first book I read by Edwidge Danticat. However, I read ‘Til the Well Runs Dry around this time last year which was partially set in Trinidad. 

Here's a quick rundown of the books I'm trying to finish up by the end of the month! 

I've already started The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson. She's known for writing speculative fiction and I'm enjoying the supernatural elements of this story. Goodreads describes it as a book that “transports readers across centuries and civilizations as it fearlessly explores the relationships women have with their lovers, their people, and the divine.”

The festival’s website has a captivating image of Karen Lord, alongside her novel The Galaxy Game, on the front page. But I decided to read Redemption In Indigo which is her debut novel. The story centers around a woman who leaves her husband and receives a gift “which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world." Caribbean literature, inspired partly by a Senegalese folktale, this book falls into the speculative fiction genre as well.

 I learned about Earl Lovelace when I stumbled upon The Wine of Astonishment at one of my favorite used bookstores. But when I started researching his novels, I decided to read Salt, a novel set in Trinidad. The Goodreads description of this book sucked me right in, “One hundred years after Emancipation, the diverse people of Trinidad, African, Asian, and European, have not settled into the New World. In Salt, an unforgettable cast of men and women strive with wit and passion to make sense of life in an evolving homeland.”


I’m beginning to appreciate short stories, so that helped me decide on Tiphanie Yanique’s How to Escape From a Leper Colony: A Novella and Short Stories. It’s her debut collection set mostly in the U.S Virgin Islands. Her most recent novel, Land of Love and Drowning, was published last summer. A closer look at the Goodreads description of this one has me thinking I’ll read it too, “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. “

Bocas Lit Fest 
The Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival
Celebrating books, writers, and writing from the Caribbean and the rest of the world. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

Happiness, Like Water is a suspenseful collection of short stories. Several of the stories are liberating, but several of them are tragic. They illustrate what can happen when women succumb to external pressure or expectations. This is demonstrated with overt cultural connotations, but I think the stories are universal. 

Chinwe is a woman who marries to satisfy her mother. Unfortunately, the man loves his toys more than he loves her. There is Ezinne, a woman whose husband’s “patience is running out” because she has not conceived a child. Uzoamaka, a girl whose mother uses skin lightening creams and insists that she does the same. Nneoma, single and childless, commits unthinkable acts against women who are married and pregnant. Ada is a student whose mother becomes ill. She needs money for medical treatment so she trusts a friend, that makes money by entertaining men, to arrange a meeting for her to do the same. Ada tragically learns that “private dinners” and “intelligent conversations” are not the only things some of the men expect. And the stories of several more women follow...

The book was enjoyable but several of the stories end abruptly, which is one of the reasons I steer clear of short stories. They leave you wanting more. Or maybe that's the point. Okparanta’s second novel, Under the Udala Trees, will be published on September 22, 2015. I've already added it to my to-read list.

“Happiness is like water. We’re always trying to grab onto it, but it’s always slipping between our fingers.”
Happiness, Like Water

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Happiness, Like Water on Amazon
Under the Udala Trees on Amazon
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