The Eighth Life: For Brilka by Nino Haratischwili

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And, in tracing the path of this ghost, she hoped to find redemption, and the definitive answer to the yawning emptiness inside her.

This is the book I have been needing to steep myself in all year. It’s about the revolution of the Janish family, which really begins with a secret, irresistible, seductive hot chocolate recipe that tastes like a blessing but bleeds into their lives like a curse. Surely a cup of warmth that fills the belly with such promise can fix an entire empire and yet how could they possibly know what destructive forces a red century has in store for them all? That they will become knots in a horror story of sorts, isn’t history full of those? Who is ever truly spared the cruelty of wars, within a country or a family? The beautiful Anastasia “Stasia”, ‘who came into the world already dancing’ is oblivious to the power the secret recipe her father (a famous chocolatier) gives her. “He guarded it like a secret of war.” He makes her promise to never allow the recipe to leave the family nor use it lightly, it is meant only for rare, special occasions. Does she heed his warning? From the moment it touches her tongue “it was like a spiritual ecstasy”, her fanciful dreams of life as a ballerina in Paris dissolve, but that is the least of the miseries and sorrows to come. In marrying a friend of her father’s, lieutenant of the White Guard Simon Jashi, she is bound not for Paris but for the cold climate of Russia- a country troubled with unrest. Meant to join her husband who left ahead of her, things run amok and fate teaches her a lesson.

There is no time for innocence nor clumsy dreams. It is only a relative that keeps her alive and later, when everything sours and the October Revolution thunders on, tragedy strikes. Fleeing destruction and death she finds her husband and gets pregnant with their first child ( Brilka’s great grandfather), returns back to Georgia “to the bosom of her family”, only to see the Chocolaterie fall into the state’s hands. Joined together again, she and Simon live in the countryside as a family where her life no longer feels like her own. Her sister Christine comes of age, blossoms and makes a very successful marriage. Stasia’s family grows as she gives birth to a daughter, and refusing to visit her husband in Moscow, instead moves into her father’s halved house. Later, she and her children live with her beautiful sister Christine and her husband Ramas. Christine catches the eye of her husband’s superior, the Little Big Man, awakens his animal urges, and sets in motion a horrific chain of events that will near destroy their entire family.

Then there are the children, Kitty and Kostya and how their lives play out. They both find themselves tied up in Andro’s own future, the son of Stasia’s dangerous friend, Sopio. How did I keep up with every character without notes? That’s how enthralled I was with the family and I began to feel like I was living through it all alongside them. This is a novel rich with history but nothing is more domineering than the fate of these characters. The dust never settles, the devil always seems to be at someone’s heels. But just which devil? There is no monster nor darkness more terrifying than human beings. Betrayal, starvation, treason, infidelity, war, dictators, torture, pogroms… and “Men always want to be in charge of you. What kind of life is that? I may as well have been born a dog; even as a dog I would have more freedom.”  It’s not only women who ‘Little big men’ are in charge of, but countries full of doomed people. It’s as if another character may as well have been death, because it’s a constant presence.

If you’re unfamiliar with Russian, German, Georgian history then you will be better informed after reading this novel. I can’t imagine a reader unfamiliar with it being able to understand the choices made nor the traps the characters all fall into. It makes for a more involved investment not all readers are interested in making. I, however, ate these pages. The horror of the times isn’t lost on me, my family has a history rife with Russian occupation and bullets, after-all Russia invaded Hungary. Poverty, hunger, cruelty, war, death, civil unrest- it feels like my own family history. Choosing which side your loyalty lies in a divided country is like choosing your own poison. People talk big who don’t understand living in fear and this novel certainly sheds light on the terror of the powerless.

There is a line about Kitty branded in my head, ‘she was a survival artist’, and the truth is every woman in the Jashi family has to be with their rotten circumstances or curse… “tomato, tamahto”.

I was riveted from the start and urge readers to dig into this novel full of riches. You can’t shake more story out of it. I was exhausted with all the emotional hijacking and I loved every moment of it. I won’t gush in a long winded review, because you need that precious time to invest in this novel. The characters fall into such a deep abyss that it’s a wonder there is a descendant (Brikla, for whom this is all told) that made it through her family’s traumas at all. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself looking back on history.  I don’t say this often, but Nino Haratischwili is a hell of a writer. How do her characters occupy her head space, with all their desires, regrets, rage? Yes, read this book! Remember you have been warned, it is not a light read.

Available Now

Scribe

 

 

 

 

 

Godshot: A Novel by Chelsea Bieker

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I was thinking in glitter and gold. Thinking, with my hands raised in praise right there in the shower, of Vern’s original miracle, the way he’d cured the town of drought years before when I was just seven years old.

Call it fanatical religion or a cult, it’s a fine line here my friends. Vern will bring the rain to this drought ridden land of Peaches, California. What was once a fruitful, prosperous place is dry as the devil’s heart. It is through ‘assignments’ that the rain will come, there will no longer be barren crops, for God has control and through faith and obedience the holy will be saved. The people are desperate and downtrodden, some proud men have even taken their own lives for the shame of it. Vern is their only hope for salvation, for he is the one who has God’s attention. He has proven he has the perfect holiness within him and 14-year-old Lacey May’s grandma Cherry was witness to it all, a devotee of Vern’s ever since.

Lacey May’s mother Louise Herd is an alcoholic, a disaster as a parent. She has her beauty though, a means to bring evil doers to the church, beauty as dangling carrots for such men. But like all women she must be clean, and boozing one’s days away, keeping a filthy house, taking up with wild men are just more marks against this stained women, already marked with a bastard daughter. In a moment of grand betrayal, chewing on  rotted memories of the many times her mother has failed her through selfishness, instability and her addiction, Lacey May chooses Vern, damning her mother in front of the congregation. They are all too happy to see her finally brought down, this evil woman who is ‘always out looking for the devil’. How could she know what the consequences would be, in speaking her truth? How could she have known her mother was keeping her safe all this time with silence, that despite her stained soul, it was Lacey May she was protecting? It’s too late now, her Judas kiss sets off a chain of events, her mother is banished and leaves with a man, a stranger.

Lacey May will find out what ‘assignments’ entail for young women like herself. As she searches to find out what happened to her mother, she comes in to contact with unholy people in the town, like the Diviners: A Lady on the Line (phone sex workers). Witches who would love nothing more than to strike men dead, if Vern and his people are to be believed. She longs for her mother, where is she? Why doesn’t her Grandma Cherry care about her own daughter’s fate? Now that enlightenment is dawning on Lacey May, she understands men are meant to lead the church and it will cost no one more than her. Everything that is expected of her, that she blindly agrees to, begins to feel wrong. It’s too late now, what’s done is done and there is no going back. Her own mother’s words were truer than she knew. “Get used to it,” she said. “Women have a long history of suffering.”

Girls don’t need their mothers, do they? But there is so much she hadn’t taught her yet, things a girl needs to know to make sense of the world, and themselves. All these terrible biting things she didn’t understand. In some ways, she is very much her mother’s daughter, filled with her passion. Could she too have a “natural disposition toward sin”, her Grandma Cherry will keep her on the clean, on the straight and narrow. Now her cousin Lyle is going to help guide her on the right path, help her with her bible studies. He gets closer to her as God shines upon him. There is a stranger come to town named Stringy, the lawn painter, someone who will notice her beauty now that her mother is no longer there to pull the eyes away. Power is humming beneath the surface, something big is coming, bigger than Vern’s first miracle. They must all remain humble servants, in order to receive the ‘perfect holiness’, from whatever vessel Vern deems worthy to deliver it.

There is blind faith and faith born out of witnessing miracles, or maybe it’s great timing? We believe what we need to. What can induce faith greater than feeling as though you are highly prized? Chosen? This is how we wrong our girls, our women, and it isn’t just the men partaking of purity. Sometimes a trapped bug prefers the burning light, because it promises such warmth. It’s easier not to question too many things, for how can anyone question what God asks of you, or your body?

It’s the girls who assure a congregation will grow in numbers. Fear is the way to get what you want, fear and blindness. But there comes a time when the cracks appear, the filth, the cheapness of it all, and that is when you truly see your life for what it has become. That is when the turning away begins, and it is all doomed to failure.

It’s painful to witness and not so far fetched as in times of mean desperation, people will cling to the wildest beliefs if they’re scared. Of course, somehow girls or women seem to be the ones sacrificing. Yes read it, get Godshot yourself with a dose of Vern and his delusional followers. There is no shortage on novel’s in this vein, cults (religious and otherwise) but here, with failing crops, drought it makes it easier to relate to why they fall under the sway of Vern.  It’s a solid story, when beliefs chafe against reality, you either close your eyes or accept you have been fooled. The writing is beautiful, I felt like I was in Lacey May’s confused little mind and body. Not always an easy thing to accomplish in a novel. Can’t wait to read more from Chelsea Bieker.

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Catapult

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

142 Ostriches: A Novel by April Davila

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At worst, you lived a life bent by compromise until you woke up one day worn-out and bitter because you let someone talk you into a life you never wanted in the first place.

Grandma Helen just made a big exit from her life and now her granddaughter Tallulah Jones is responsible for running her Ostrich Ranch in the Mojave Desert.  The problem is Tallulah has plans to work with the Forest Service and had just received an acceptance letter assigning her to a fire prevention handcrew in Montana before this disaster. Grandma Helen would have none of it and tried to convince Tallulah to stay. Unsurprisingly, her grandchild couldn’t be swayed, so she found a way to keep her tied in to the land. Grandma Helen up and died, mysteriously in an accident. Was it really an accident? Through the coming days, with the ranch as her inheritance, Tallulah is struggling to keep up with the endless, exhausting work. Collecting eggs, feeding the ostriches took long enough even with their old routine, but left to complete the tasks alone takes endless hours. One person is not made to maintain an ostrich ranch alone! The birds all all depressed without their beloved caregiver and there isn’t much she can do to fix that. It has to be sold!

Tallulah has a plan, no way is she going to compromise in her life, “there was one more card I could play.” But the ostriches aren’t cooperating and have suddenly stopped laying eggs! She is going to sell this place off come hell or high water, if the family doesn’t like it, too bad. They had little interest in the place, all this time, no one more so than her absentee mother. Still, no one is going to make it easy. Her unpredictable Uncle Scott arrives with his sponsor Matt in tow (as a babysitter, he says), dangerous when high but not much better when sober. His anger flares with the news she is selling, and the blatantly unfair fact that his inheritance is nothing more than a measly watch does nothing but feed his fire. Things are about to blow. Aunt Christine has her hands full raising her 5 girls and pregnant again with another ‘blessing’. Sprouting scripture, will it do her any good when life tests her as well? Then there is Devon, who wants to know what’s going on in Tallulah’s head, not just set her body aflame. He longs for permanence and promises, expecting her job away to be a temporary escape. But to Tallulah, he is starting to feel like another anchor, holding her to this place that she wants nothing more than to abandon. Which brings to mind her own alcoholic restless mother. Addiction runs through the family, with her own mother’s love affair with the bottle, her uncle’s constant highs on drugs and her aunt’s unwavering love of religion. Her Grandma Helen wasn’t always so put together either.

Before she turned 13, Tallulah learned how to live a tumbleweed existence at her mother’s side. Ripped free from the roots of family, men coming and going, no clue as to who her father is, picking up and moving, the two of them blowing in the wind, never still for long.  A life without routine or stability, living in cheap places among things salvaged for free, until one day Grandma Helen appears as sudden as a cloud, demanding her mother let her take her granddaughter under her wing. Her mother doesn’t put up much of a fight, despite the fact Grandma Helen is a stranger to Tallulah, and seems to turn her nose up at their meager lives. As if making a full circle in her mother’s place, she grows up with the ostriches from then on, in the very place her own mother escaped.  It isn’t so bad being cared about, paid attention to nor getting to know her extended family. It’s soothing caring for the peculiar ostriches, working in the barn, being surrounded by animals. But the severing from her fickle mother is an ache. The distance and seeming indifference scars over her heart as the years collect, until the past arrives, begging for attention.

Life is moving on at a fast pace, everything is falling apart, the ostriches aren’t cooperating anymore than her family and it is detrimental to the sale that their failure to lay eggs remains unknown. But that is the least of her problems, worse is soon to befall them all and the biggest threat comes from her own blood. Does she care about the ostriches more than she thought? Are they more than just a means to an end? Her decisions could cost Tallulah her very life, not everyone is open to change, and does she even know her own mind, understand her choices? Why is settling down and committing to one man repellent? How can she betray her grandmother’s last wishes? As she fights to see her plans succeed, Tallulah learns the age old lesson of the best laid plans.

I learned a bit about ostriches, very cool and strange birds! Addiction wreaking havoc through generations is sadly all too common. This is become a sort of new normal, sadly, in our times. Too, the confusion of youth, not sure of your place in the world, whirling in many directions with past and present affecting your relationships, clouding your desires. This is an author worth watching.

Available Now

Published February 2020

Kensington Books

 

 

 

My Dark Vanessa: A Novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell

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I assume I’ll be the one he turns to in ten or fifteen years, whenever his body begins to break down. That seems the likely ending to this love story: me dropping everything and doing anything, devoted as a dog, as he takes and takes and takes.

The above lines stood out for me more than any other in this gorgeously written novel. Make no mistake, ambitious and bright , fifteen-year old ‘nymphet’ Vanessa Wye becomes a devoted dog to her much older teacher, Mr. Strane. Hungry enough to have convinced her parents she would flourish at Browick, a boarding school that lures students  with high college acceptance rates and a wonderful “social fabric”, we witness her in 2000 at the dorm move in date for her sophomore year. Something happened to break the bond between she and her one close friend, Jenny. The pain of it hovers in the air as the only thing promised this year is abject loneliness. For Mr. Strane her loneliness seems like a choice, something he too likes. When she joins a club he heads up the two become closer, more so as he encourages her writing, something she has never shared with anyone else. It isn’t long before he is praising everything else about her, giving her the attention she is sorely in need of. Naturally, even at the age of fifteen, she knows grown man shouldn’t be giving such compliments to a young girl, and yet there is something so enthralling about his attentions, particularly when he begins to seduce her with snippets of literature, that reminds him of her. All the little intimacies grow until she is consumed by the fire he has built.

What girl isn’t in awe of a person who is able to engage her intellectually, especially Mr. Strane with his gift for all things literary? How does a girl not swoon when a man is filling her with praise, telling her she is beautiful, gifted, talented? A man who thinks about her all the time, tells her she is special.  Here is a lonely, intelligent, hungry girl who is suddenly the light in a grown man’s eyes, honed in on her alone. Oh the rest of us know just what he is up to, and she too knows this isn’t normal, but this could be different and not sleazy. She really could be special! It isn’t long before he makes her feel like a seductress, and he touches her with more than words.

You know it goes further, deeper than a little flirtation.

The book goes back and forth between future and past. It is 2017 and Mr. Strane is facing accusations from other students, Vanessa’s most recent relationship with Ira is in ruins and her future doesn’t resemble anything her entrance to Browick promised. What the hell happened? Is one of Mr. Strane’s accusers just a filthy liar, like Vanessa believes? What she and Strane had was not abuse, and she refuses to mar what they shared by labeling it as such. Strane needs her and time has not diluted her loyalty. That past… what the hell happened in that past where the young girl whom Mr. Strane felt would “take over the world” is now an adult leading a mediocre life?

In the past, we find her tormenting herself with every interaction she has with Strane. He wants me, he doesn’t want me. It is euphoric love for her, or something like it. His moods can leave her in a state of devastation or exhilaration, but everything is always her fault. Can it be criminal if you consent, if you want it? If he is equally as ‘tormented’ as her?  From her youthful perspective, it’s easy to forgive Vanessa for seeing things as she wants them to be. How else do adults get away with such things? I just kept thinking of a Dorothy Parker line from the poem Incurable, “But you, my sweet, are different”. Because when you’re young you don’t think the rules apply, not so much in your little rebellions, but in the stories that you know won’t end well. We tend to attempt to redefine what is truly happening into a more tasteful telling. In her mind, what they have together isn’t sordid nor dirty, despite the age difference and power dynamics. She carries this confusion into adulthood, still not understanding what exactly happened.

Where does the shame lie? Was he as devoted as her or were there other little loyal dogs? Was she just a fool to be had? Is this a story of being groomed? Vanessa’s ‘love’ story unfolds before the reader’s bewildered eyes, and it is provocative and engaging, often infuriating. Just what did he project unto her? The adults fail her, and why is that?

Therapy is only as good as the things you confront. How do you assign blame when you carry the shame on your shoulders and refuse to crack open the past? I spent most of my time blaming every single adult in the novel. Especially her own family.

I ached for Vanessa when she is young, begging to be an adult, awakened too soon, fouled even if she doesn’t know it yet. This book is going to trigger many people. I was pissed off for her, but unable to be too angry with Vanessa (as others will likely be) when she reached adulthood because this trauma has haunted her like a specter, preventing her from having genuine healthy relationships. She is still just that loyal devoted dog, her obedience automatic and under the guise of love. But we all have to wake up sometime! Nothing is more distasteful to me either as a woman than their intimacy when she is so young. There is nothing romantic in it when you look with adult eyes. Vanessa, through the years, is just on the edge of understanding what really happened, but to examine it closely is to discount all she felt, the good things too.

For some it takes extreme situations to look upon the scene of the crime, so to speak. But you have to be able to call it that. It isn’t hard to understand how the seduction sucked Vanessa in. How easy it is for Strane to control the story, because he is the true author of it all.  As Vanessa says, “My silence is so reliable.”  She doesn’t know the full story, but she will. This is an engaging, brutal story that left me reeling. Beautiful writing and I highlighted many lines like a mad fool. A shout out for the gorgeous cover too, may be my favorite in years. Read it, you won’t be able to put it down.

Publication Date:  March 10, 2020

William Morrow

Conjure Women: A Novel by Afia Atakora

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More profit to be made in curses than in her work mixing healing tinctures. More praise to be found in revenge than in birthing babies.

Slaverytime 1854 we meet Miss May Belle, a slave woman well known for crafting curses, because as she tells it, “Hoodoo is black folks currency.”  What other power is to be found than in such things? It’s another form of hope when drowning in desperation. In a time when other slavefolk were forced to work in  the fields, or on carpentering and cooking Miss May Belle has her hoodooing and healing (for various afflictions) as well as midwifery skills. She is the one the slavefolk turn to, and sometimes the white man as well; when what ails him is a shameful thing. Her own daughter Rue comes of age at her side, learning more than healing wounds, and birthing babies. She learns first hand about true love and passion watching her parents during her father’s brief visits and the abysmal pain and suffering of its loss. She also learns about the cost of freedom and ownership. Then she witnesses the consequences conjures take on a person’s body and soul. Through her mother’s gifts and skills she is able to weave in and out of the lives of their people as well as the home of their master and his family, prosperous landowner Marse Charles.

As a playmate to his spoiled daughter Varina, Rue has more freedom than afforded girls like her and is privy to a different life. Yet Rue learns her place well, always watching from afar the life that she knows divides them. When she forgets her place her mother is sure to do the reminding. Miss May Belle may be freer than most, but she still must abide by the unspoken rules of the white-man. The master’s child Varina loves to be wild and who better to be an “accomplice to witness her rebellion” than Rue. It always turns into punishments for her alone, for her mamma Miss May Belle has eyes and ears everywhere, and an uncanny way of knowing everything her girl gets up to. In order to keep her safe and under the care of Marse Charles she must teach her everything she knows, whether Rue wants to learn or not and that includes behaving properly, and colored little girls can’t run around fancy and free like Varina.

The story goes back and forth between slavery and freedomtime, Rue’s childhood and her turn at caring for the people her own mother gives up on after a horrific tragedy. Superstitions seem to guide the people, especially when a baby is born more like a pitiful creature, something that everyone feels is more like a curse than a bundle of joy. She has birthed every child in town since the end of slaverytime, more intimately involved in all their lives than anyone. But she knows firsthand how fast praise can turn to hatred, more so when a religious man comes to town. Everyone needs someone to blame their bad luck on, it’s so much easier than looking within. When the old ways no longer save you, maybe God can, but the bible doesn’t take with Hoodoo. Love itself can be as potent as a curse, as too can harboring secrets about the people in the town and Marse Charles’ family. Someone is always scheming, there is little comfort to be had. Gossip can cost anyone their standing, especially Rue. Running away can be dangerous but so can ‘digging in’, making a stand and fighting for your small place in the world. Rue will not run, even if Bruh Abel is set on her ruin. Even if the bible marks her as evil, fallen, in need of redemption. Maybe Bruh Abel isn’t so pure either?

Fear runs rampant among the people, curses aren’t enough, and every affliction can’t be cured. The woods are not always silent nor still, they too are haunted by memories, and possibly something else. Secrets seems to go there. So many decisions Rue is forced to make to protect others, so many wrong moves and yet nothing for herself. Will it ever change? Is she forever trapped in this life rooted in whispers, secrets, gossip, grief, curses, and conjures? What will the price of freedom be for Rue? Life is a heavy weight and what comfort can be found in her mother’s words? “Fix what you’ve done. Or live with it quiet.”

There are some things that one cannot live with and everything you have done will rise up. It’s an interesting historical fiction with a taste of magical realism, people help each other but also harm one another. Rue carries many burdens and tries hard to make things right. It’s written from the perspective of slavery, rather than ownership and it lends a far more authentic experience. This is a writer to watch! For those who are into cover love, how beautiful is the book cover? As I read it, I kept thinking someone will make this into a movie. Who knows? It’s a fantastic debut!

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Random House Publishing

 

 

 

Love is a Rebellious Bird: A Novel by Elayne Klasson

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“Judith, sometimes it’s hard to be objective when it’s someone we love.”

With the years gone faster than the blink of Judith’s eye, she finds herself thinking about the same person she has since childhood, the one person whom has occupied the biggest room in her heart, Eliot Pine. The most pressing question of all, beyond why and how we love the people we do, is can you love someone who doesn’t love you with the same devotion and passion you feel for them? Is true love only measured in equal parts? Worse, can you stop yourself from loving a person who can never return your own? Judith is over seventy, and “trying to make sense of what I did with my life”, knowing her obsessive love was “consuming, painful, and, ultimately, unsuitable.” Here she presents her story of unwavering love for Eliot through her marriages, births of her children and her career.

Judith first meets Eliot Pine, a beautiful boy, when she is ten years old and transfers to Pratt Elementary School in Chicago her fifth grade year. The reader learns, just like Judith, through a fight he is in that his mother is in the mental hospital, again. His pain and sorrow becomes Judith’s own. Immediately her heart belongs to Eliot. First it’s love from a distance, each with their own little boyfriend and girlfriends until they begin to compete academically. Impressed by her intelligence, the two become fast friends, earning her even a special nickname from Eliot that sticks for life. She inserts herself in his passionate causes to be closer to him, getting to know even his mother, for a time. But she always seems to be asking him for more than he can give, their relationship one of imbalance. A terrible tragedy takes place, and Judith is only too eager to be Eliot’s solace. Through the years and difficulties of life, Eliot and Judith turn to each other as something far more undefinable than friends.

As growing up does, experiences change Eliot and Judith just can’t seem to keep up. As he changes, Judith longs for him in the Ann Arbor Gloom, focusing on her education, waiting for that ‘some day’ he always promises when she can finally, fully give herself to him, body and soul. Judith immerses herself in psychology and social work. The two meet up again and again through life, keeping in touch through letters before emails take over, their life circles different as Eliot’s in more affluent, and yet there are times they are unavailable to each other as he graduates Harvard Law and she travels the world with someone else.

Judith and Eliot’s life paths split in different directions, he with a career in law, she with a career in social work and later raising children as a single mother after a tragic turn. Eliot gives her mixed signals even after he is married to someone else, and all she can ever feel is “if only” about everything involving Eliot. Is Eliot moved more by their shared history and her utter devotion and attention to him? In love with the intensity of her love for him? She promises him to always be there for him, even when they’re old and she keeps that promise, which in fact may be the most beautiful part of the story and the most pure example of love.

The novel is Judith’s journey through life, always on the edge of Eliot’s as he goes on to do great things. Using her other loves and marriages as a means to have a life of her own, separate from Eliot. Her own love life comes with it’s own issues and temptations like any marriage. There are betrayals and losses, brutal days. It is with startling honesty that Judith tells her story of how she humiliated herself for love, which a woman once she reaches old age at some point has done over someone. Not every great love story is mutual nor mutually exclusive. Love is sometimes one sided, but is it any less true? Even when she tries to push away, there is always her heart beating for Eliot and it is tender until the end, loyal if not returned. Eliot, again and again ‘not choosing me’ and yet not quite ever releasing her either. She is the constant friend, and in old age, let her children think she is crazy, she will not refuse Eliot when he needs her the most. It may be painful to recognize yourself either in Eliot or Judith, the worshiped or the devoted. The end was tender and sad, dare I say beautiful?

Published November 12, 2019

She Writes Press

 

 

 

Love After Love: A Novel by Ingrid Persaud

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Thing is, worse than the pain in my arm is Sunil’s spirit in the house. The man in the walls, on the stairs, in the rooms. Before he passed he must have put the bad eye on me for truth. 

Love After Love is an interesting title for this novel, because it is about love but not the sort we tend to seek out with romanticized notions. Love here is far stronger between friends and family than in lovers, forced into terrible situations and entanglements for passion. Written in Trinidadian dialect it may take some readers time to get into the flow, but I feel it lends a more authentic flavor to the tale. It begins with Betty Ramdin’s husband Sunil, stinking of rum and feeling big and mean after ‘working hard all week’ he is taking everything out on Betty and their little boy Solo. From the way Betty caters to him, the ugliness spewing from his hateful mouth and her terror as she watches him bully Solo it’s obvious she is like a beaten down dog, trained on the scent of her husband’s brutality. It’s for her son that she fears, who she tries to protect, often inserting herself to do the things Sunil demands of Solo, so that when his clumsy little boy hands fail he won’t get punished. To think people told her she was lucky, looking at Betty with Sunil by her side, but what sort of lucky leaves you with broken bones and a cowering child? Sunil may be dead in a few pages, but his poison has spread and his death will have damaging consequences through the years, testing the bounds of love between mother and son.

Betty is a good mother, trying to raise her boy right once she’s free from the imprisonment of a bad marriage but living in the big old house she could use money and a lodger would be ideal. After giving Mr. Chetan (her co-worker) a ride one morning, Betty mentions she needs a lodger, if he knows of anyone needing a place, particularly a mature woman, it would help her greatly. This in turn becomes the perfect opportunity for Mr. Chetan, as fate would have it, his landlord is selling everything thanks to the misfortune of crime. A gentle, quiet, private man he will be no hardship, though Betty herself seems to be talkative and possibly a meddler in time the two come to mean as much to each other as devoted spouses.

Both Mr. Chetan and Betty have shameful secrets, even criminal to some minds, but in life we are pushed to make choices to save ourselves, and others. There are rules about love and in Trinidad trying to embrace who you are under the condemning eyes of the people can be one’s ruination. People are fast to talk, Betty learns this all too well as she ventures out for a man’s touch, much to her son Solo’s humiliation. Despite Mr. Chetan’s role in his life, a type of surrogate father and a far better one than his own departed dad, when Solo discovers what his mother has kept hidden from him he concocts a plan and with his savings soon abandons their life and flees to live with his paternal uncle in New York. Betty thinks it’s temporary, but he wants nothing more than to be free of her and her lies, to cut her out like a cancer. In the process, he pushes Mr. Chetan to take a backseat role too, and the thing about leaving is that you can’t always return to the people you have left.

The dynamics change once Solo is gone, Chetan is living his life more freely, maybe more for himself finally when someone from the past is again in his life. Betty is yearning to hear about her son’s experience in America, jealous of the closeness he has with his uncle while she is again like a dog begging for a bone, resorting to sending letters to the boy who refuses to see sense in her explanations. He is keen on his pain, and finds many outlets for it.

Solo struggles in New York but feels good being a part of the Ramdin men under his Uncle Hari’s guidance, and no longer under the ‘suffocating’ care of his mother, who kept him a blind fool. Hari tells him it won’t be easy working hard jobs, he should stay in school as his dad would have wanted that but having Solo around he tells him ‘Every time I look at you I seeing piece of Sunil.’  Solo cannot go back to Trinidad and his mother’s lies. Through Uncle Hari, Solo can get to know the father who is just a fading memory and cling to the toxic blame he feels is all his mother’s due. The truth, the same as people, has many faces and may well turn us against the very people who made dangerous decisions for our sake. It will cost Solo, his mother Betty and Mr. Chetan time that they will never get back.  Solo has a lot to learn and finds he is more like his mother than he thinks; getting a mother who has cared for you all your life out of your system isn’t so easy.

In this story some people’s love is so pure they are willing to risk their very soul and yet others can’t find enough heart to accept their child for who they are. Some are so hungry for love they will tolerate any sort of arrangement just to feel alive, to be near their beloved and society itself forces people into dangerous situations just to feel the burn of it. Love shouldn’t cost this much. Shame weighs more than the soul can bear, but how do you release it’s grip? “The moon can run but the day will always catch it.” There is family dysfunction, grief, abuse, distorted memory, mother’s pure love and then some. Here, Mr. Chetan is the glue between Betty and Solo, for that it is a savage and beautiful love story.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Random House Publishing

One World

A QUICK NOTE: There are sexual encounters that may put off some readers but it is not the sole focus, keep going with the novel. It broke my heart.