June is Caribbean-American Heritage Month and many people are using this month to read books written by authors hailing from the Caribbean and sharing using #CaribbeanReads. Below are 5 of my favorite fiction books by Caribbean authors that you should absolutely put on your reading list.
Augustown, Kei Miller
A poor suburban sprawl in the Jamaican heartland, Augustown is a place where many things that should happen don’t, and plenty of things that shouldn’t happen do. Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything. So when her great-nephew Kaia comes home from school in tears, what she senses sends a deep fear running through her. While they wait for his mama to come home from work, Ma Taffy recalls the story of the flying preacherman and a great thing that did not happen.
Augustown is an amazing read – sooo good – and the audiobook is definitely the best way to experience it. The narration by Dona Croll completely brings the book and the characters to life. And yes – Augustown is a real placenin Jamaica, and yes “classism”and “colorism” is a real thing in the Caribbean. Kei Miller puts these complex issues front and center in our faces by telling the story of Ma Taffy and her grandson Kaia. This book couyld have easily come out preachy, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a matter of fact story that will really pull on your emotions – and it will probably leave you wondering, which elements are true and which is fiction. This is definitely the book for you if you’re from the Caribbean and even if you’re not – but you’re a history buff. The author, Kei Miller, hails from Jamaica.
Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn
At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Margot has to hustle to make enough money to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves must confront long-hidden scars.
Sorry to say that although Here Comes the Sun is very well written and completely worth adding to your reading list, it’s a damn bleak novel filled with longing, desperation, self-loathing, exploitation, abuse, ambition, and poverty. This book will grab a hold of you and have you praying that the characters will just catch a break … just one lucky break! I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin and I highly recommend experiencing this book this way. The Jamaican accent and native patois (dialect) made it feel even more real – and completely unputdownable. The author, Nichole Dennis-Benn is from Kingston, Jamaica.
Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn
When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it comes after years of yearning to leave Pennyfield, the beautiful but impoverished Jamaican town where she was raised. More than anything, Patsy wishes to be reunited with her oldest friend, Cicely, whose letters arrive from New York steeped in the promise of a happier life and the possible rekindling of their young love. But Patsy’s plans don’t include her overzealous, evangelical mother – or even her five-year-old daughter, Tru.
There’s so much to unpack in Patsy as we follow her life’s journey and everything she goes through – her battle with depression (without knowing what it’s called), her story as a mother who doesn’t feel connected to her child, her struggles as an illegal immigrant and the complexities as her feelings for another woman in a time and society where it’s very much taboo. But the story is also told from the point of view of the daughter who Patsy left behind in Jamaica – her feelings of longing, not belonging and deep hurt, but also hopefulness. There is so much to this book, but it’s written with a thoughtful hand and it’s a wonderful novel that deserves to be read more than once!
Everything Inside, Edwidge Danticat
These eight powerful, emotionally absorbing stories are set in locales from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond. A romance unexpectedly sparks between two wounded friends; a marriage ends for what seem like noble reasons, but with irreparable consequences; a young woman holds on to an impossible dream even as she fights for her survival; two lovers reunite after unimaginable tragedy, both for their country and in their lives; a baby’s christening brings three generations of a family to a precarious dance between old and new; a man falls to his death in slow motion, reliving the defining moments of the life he is about to lose.
This short story collection won the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award and with good reason. Danticat has written a strong collection of stories filled with complex characters many of which are Haitian-American, and all dealing with major issues involving loss, betrayal, feelings of longing or loneliness. It’s rare for me to come across a short story collection where every single story is fantastic – but this is one such. All the stories are moving and emotional. The author, Edwidge Danticat, hails from Haiti.
Have you read any of the books above? What did you think? If you’d like more Caribbean fiction recommendations, check out #ReadCaribbean (Instagram hashtag), The OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Goodreads Listopia – Read Caribbean and #MyCaribbeanLibrary.