Book buzz | Reviews (Mar/Apr 2024)

This month’s reading picks from the Caribbean, with reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan of We Are the Crisis by Cadwell Turnbull; Self-Portrait as Othello by Jason Allen-Paisant; Elektrik: Caribbean Writing; and Uprooting by Marchelle Farrell

We Are the Crisis

by Cadwell Turnbull (Blackstone Publishing, 322 pp, ISBN 9781982603755)

In this second instalment of a high-stakes speculative fiction series, The Convergence Saga, monsters continue to walk among us: some of them may even wear human faces. Turnbull, who was raised in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands, expands on the already-complex world of interspecies contact he created in his debut, No Gods, No Monsters. Perfectly pitched to mirror the stressors and grief-inducing calamities of our Anthropocene, We Are the Crisis tackles grand-scale existential questions alongside touching domestic concerns. The author is particularly adept at framing the events of this sequel in malleable temporal terms, with narratives that pitch forward and backward through time. Peering into the politics of hatred, while striving to show how co-existence might be truly tested in the decades to come, this novel teaches spectacular truths, liberally adorned with horror and fantasy storytelling power.

Self-Portrait as Othello

by Jason Allen-Paisant (Carcanet Press, 80 pp, ISBN 9781800173101)

Winner of both the Forward Prize for Best Collection and the TS Eliot Prize, Jamaican poet Jason Allen Paisant’s second collection is a masterwork in polyvocality. The poet plucks Shakespeare’s infamous Moor of Venice from his classical pages, asking, “What fuller and deeper inhabitations of selfhood reside in this person, so maligned for his Blackness?” The resulting poems are emanations of both imagined and lived experience, calling on prodigious research and personal marrow. If there is a sense that Allen-Paisant is bleeding on the page, as many poets are oft-accused, this is a deliberate and sensory application of that lifeforce: a mapping of Black British masculinities that intersect with rivers of immigrant strife; elitist educations; racially coded carnalities; loss at a molecular level. Through it all, the narrative splendour of Self-Portrait as Othello moves gracefully, with sharpest intent.

Elektrik: Caribbean Writing

(Two Lines Press, 166 pp, ISBN 9781949641509)

The voices of eight female authors from Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe occupy this anthology: Gaël Octavia; Fabienne Kanor; Marie-Célie Agnant; Kettly Mars; Suzanne Dracius; Mireille Jean-Gilles; Adlyne Bonhomme; Gerty Dambury. Elektrik is an ensuing celebration of Francophone Caribbean writing that is most attendant to voicing the unsung, to upending prevalent patriarchies, and to exploring women’s survival unstintingly, without apology. Eighth in the publisher’s Calico series, which presents translated work from globally underheard demographics, this gathering of non-fiction, prose, and poetry asks: where are the borders of our shared Caribbean space? Pushing subversively against gendered limitations, the writing herein glimmers with the unmistakeable shine of truth-telling, devoid of any compromise. As Dambury’s “Defiant Islands” invokes: I am in exile from an unborn country. / I choose to stride across a fiction. / The island I hope for is a hidden dream.


by Marchelle Farrell (Canongate Books, 288 pp, ISBN 9781838858674)

How does an English garden grow? For Trinidadian psychiatrist and psychotherapist Marchelle Farrell, whose youth was characterised by her island’s verdant lushness, the answer might have astonished her: with difficulty and wintry hardships. Yet in Uprooting, Farrell’s Nan Shepherd Prize-winning memoir, persistence pays off from tunnelling deep in inhospitable earth. Farrell’s prose is as generous as it is descriptive, summoning childhood romps alongside adult microaggressions with a uniform intentionality: to paint a full, often-troubling portrait of a life lived at sometimes competing intensities. This debut teems with a resultant aliveness, in service to the reality that no single person can be captured or pinned down by the categorical. Farrell is both mother and maker, wife and dreamer, scientist and gardener, and she inhabits these stations with both vexed and gentle thoughtfulness. Uprooting presents her to the reader in leafy wonder.