But even in a dusty time, sometimes a man does catch some luck.
This novel truly is wild, full of wandering spirits, and while I opened the pages not knowing much about Trinidad and Tobago, I felt like I was transported to the Caribbean . Reading Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s acknowledgements to her ancestors, I imagine they were the seeds to the creation of this story. There is power for many of us in the past, our cultures, in the lives of those who came before us. With that said, this is not my usual read but I wanted something different, magical and she delivered.
No longer enslaved like their ancestors before them, living in their home Morne Marie, the women of St. Bernards are there to help guide the spirits of the dead; which feels like another form of slavery at times. Yejide St Bernard’s mother is dying, and so it passes that she must wear the mantle and speak to the dead in her mother’s place, whether she wants to or not. We learn early in the novel that Petronella wasn’t so thrilled with the demands either. There are issues between Yejide and her mother Petronella, leaving Yejide even jealous of her aunt. It has left a lot of mystery about the demands of her future. It also begs the question, must we fall in line with what family expects, forever and ever, full circle?
Emmanuel Darwin needs work, to make money for his mother Janaya, whose health is failing, but that he has found labor at the cemetery (Fidelis) is something his mother cannot abide! Her son cannot work as a gravedigger, Port Angeles is a city of the dead and “Rasta don’t deal with the dead.” Fatherless, he has no one to guide him, but a man must make his way, even if it means living in the same city his father left them for. How much of that nugget of the past does he truly know? This all is a test, and he must succeed. Surely his mother will forgive him, still loves him? He has to go against the beliefs of her Rastafarian religion, there is nothing for him if he stays with her. Janaya and Darwin have always been separate. Never was he able to be a normal child, going to the cinema or concerts- not with his mother’s faith. Instead, he dealt with insults until he learned to defend himself, and his mother. No man is an island, but he and his mother always were. With Janaya’s work as a seamstress, she was able to provide for her boy, keep him clean of heart and safe. That was before her hands became painful and useless, no matter what, she doesn’t want him mixed up in those people- she did not bring him this far to see him soiled now. But he needs a life of his own, even if it means all sorts of trouble will befall him. He gives up his identity as a Rastaman first by shaving his dreads off. He will be a different man now, he must. Will proving himself cost his life, his soul? He is about to tangle with ‘those people’ in a big way, for no one is closer to the dead than Yejide.
Yejide feels no bond with her mother, all her life ‘snatching glimpses’, but never feeling a part of Petronella. Maybe with her death, Petronella will take the fate of her line with her, and leave Yejide free of the dead. It won’t be that easy. Soon, she is suffering through her own transformation, her mother like her granny Catherine before, is calling for her as she dies. Yejide feels like there is no living in their home, just worrying about the dead all the time. Her mother certainly didn’t want this ‘fate’ either, and taught her nothing. But now visions take over, and when her dead mother talks, she would be wise to listen. I enjoyed Petronella’s bite, coming from the afterlife. While Yejide has all things supernatural to contend with, Emmanuel Darwin has the dark hearts of man to fight.
It’s not the dead Darwin needs to fear, despite his mother’s warnings. He works under a man named Errol, who gives him a hard time from the get go and may truly be caught up in dangerous dealings. Errol who needs to decide just how he can use Darwin. Fidelis is a place covered by shadow, shadows of bad men, bad ‘living’ men. Cemeteries aren’t always places of rest. He is beginning to notice strange things leaving him unsettled. One night he sees Yejide and isn’t sure what she is (a spirit maybe), only that, when they meet again and he learns her name, it is like a prayer on his tongue. The two are tied, it is a love story but one of inheritance and fate. It is about how we take up our destiny and discard what is no longer serving us. It is the story about the bones in our line, what we owe the dead, and what is owed the living. It is a tale of the terrible things people do to make a living. There are rich characters and the dialect creates a more believable atmosphere. It is a strange read, yet it has gravity with the characters facing real hardships of reality, especially for a tale about otherworldly visions. If you enjoy magical realism, this is just for you.
Publication Date: March 15, 2022