Over the last year I have gotten back to reading books by Caribbean authors, thanks to the Caribbean Book Club which was born out of the pandemic. Growing up in the Caribbean I of course read many books by our local authors, but did not really keep up with Caribbean literature, especially after moving to France. Thanks to the club, and also to the Read Caribbean challenge on Instagram, I’ve delved back into Caribbean literature both past and contemporary. So here are twelve books by Caribbean authors that fit the challenge prompts! (You can get a printable challenge checklist in the Sister Reads group)
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
winner of the Booker Prize 2015
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins’ fates, and there are suspicions that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves deep into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history and beyond. James deftly chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately re-emerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s. Along the way, they learn that evil does indeed cast long shadows, that justice and retribution are inextricably linked, and that no one can truly escape his fate.
Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud
winner of the Costa Book Award
After Betty Ramdin’s husband dies, she invites a colleague, Mr. Chetan, to move in with her and her son, Solo. Over time, the three become a family, loving each other deeply and depending upon one another. Then, one fateful night, Solo overhears Betty confiding in Mr. Chetan and learns a secret that plunges him into torment.
Solo flees Trinidad for New York to carve out a lonely existence as an undocumented immigrant, and Mr. Chetan remains the singular thread holding mother and son together. But soon, Mr. Chetan’s own burdensome secret is revealed, with heartbreaking consequences. Love After Love interrogates love and family in all its myriad meanings and forms, asking how we might exchange an illusory love for one that is truly fulfilling.
In vibrant, addictive Trinidadian prose, Love After Love questions who and how we love, the obligations of family, and the consequences of choices made in desperation.
Star on the Cover/Name
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
The Girl With the Hazel Eyes by Callie Browning
A beautifully written coming-of-age tale that examines the bonds of womanhood, feminism and pre-independence life on a small island.
Almost fifty years after Susan Taylor was exiled from Barbados for her famous whistle-blowing novel, ‘The Unspeakable Truth’, she contacts a young writer to pen her biography. Susan is crotchety and unpleasant but Lia Davis is broke so she has no choice but to stay and write Susan’s biography.
As Lia starts to unravel the reclusive author’s life, she realizes that some things just don’t add up. Susan has been hiding a massive secret for decades and Lia is determined to find out what it is. The Girl with the Hazel Eyes is an endearing historical fiction that tugs at your heart with its examination of love, lies, and loyalty.
Set in The Caribbean
Augusttown by Kei Miller
11 April 1982: a smell is coming down John Golding Road right alongside the boy-child, something attached to him, like a spirit but not quite. Ma Taffy is growing worried. She knows that something is going to happen. Something terrible is going to pour out into the world. But if she can hold it off for just a little bit longer, she will. So she asks a question that surprises herself even as she asks it, “Kaia, I ever tell you bout the flying preacherman?”
Set in the backlands of Jamaica, Augustown is a magical and haunting novel of one woman’s struggle to rise above the brutal vicissitudes of history, race, class, collective memory, violence, and myth.
Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.
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. Uniquely imagined, with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, and the author’s own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs, Land of Love and Drowning is a gorgeous, vibrant debut by an exciting, prizewinning young writer.
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, the latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Isabel Allende (Inés of My Soul, The House of the Spirits, Portrait in Sepia) tells the story of a mulatta woman, a slave and concubine, determined to take control of her own destiny.
Set in New York
Patsy by Nicole Denis-Benn
Heralded for writing “deeply memorable . . . women” (Jennifer Senior, New York Times), Nicole Dennis-Benn introduces readers to an unforgettable heroine for our times: the eponymous Patsy, who leaves her young daughter behind in Jamaica to follow Cicely, her oldest friend, to New York. Beating with the pulse of a long-withheld confession and peppered with lilting patois, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to love whomever she chooses, bravely putting herself first. But to survive as an undocumented immigrant, Patsy is forced to work as a nanny, while back in Jamaica her daughter, Tru, ironically struggles to understand why she was left behind. Greeted with international critical acclaim from readers who, at last, saw themselves represented in Patsy, this astonishing novel “fills a literary void with compassion, complexity and tenderness” (Joshunda Sanders, Time), offering up a vital portrait of the chasms between selfhood and motherhood, the American dream and reality.
Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau
In a narrative composed of short sequences, each recounting episodes or developments of moment, and interspersed with extracts from fictive notebooks and from statements by an urban planner, Marie-Sophie Laborieux, the saucy, aging daughter of a slave affranchised by his master, tells the story of the tormented foundation of her people’s identity. The shantytown established by Marie-Sophie is menaced from without by hostile landowners and from within by the volatility of its own provisional state. Hers is a brilliant polyphonic rendering of individual stories informed by rhythmic orality and subversive humor that shape a collective experience.
A joyous affirmation of literature that brings to mind Boccaccio, La Fontaine, Lewis Carroll, Montaigne, Rabelais, and Joyce, Texaco is a work of rare power and ambition, a masterpiece.
Segu by Maryse Conde
The year is 1797, and the kingdom of Segu is flourishing, fed by the wealth of its noblemen and the power of its warriors. The people of Segu, the Bambara, are guided by their griots and priests; their lives are ruled by the elements. But even their soothsayers can only hint at the changes to come, for the battle of the soul of Africa has begun. From the east comes a new religion, Islam, and from the West, the slave trade.
Segu follows the life of Dousika Traore, the king’s most trusted advisor, and his four sons, whose fates embody the forces tearing at the fabric of the nation. There is Tiekoro, who renounces his people’s religion and embraces Islam; Siga, who defends tradition, but becomes a merchant; Naba, who is kidnapped by slave traders; and Malobali, who becomes a mercenary and halfhearted Christian.
Based on actual events, Segu transports the reader to a fascinating time in history, capturing the earthy spirituality, religious fervor, and violent nature of a people and a growing nation trying to cope with jihads, national rivalries, racism, amid the vagaries of commerce.
Link to Scotland
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. She had a startling early career and was known for her extraordinary prose and haunting women characters. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.
Recommended by Lin Manuel Miranda
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.