Butter Honey Pig Bread, Francesca Ekwuyasi (Arsenal Pulp) This novel is so sure-footed and fully formed, it’s hard to believe it’s a debut. It caught me from its earliest pages – the scene of a mother and her adult daughters attempting to cook together despite tension between them. The mother is Kambirinachi, who believes herself to be an ogbanje, a spirit born to bring her family grief. The daughters, Kehinde and Taiye, are twins who were once close, but now separately take this story from Lagos to London, Montpellier, Montreal, Halifax and then back to Lagos, where the three women must address what drove them apart.
ZOM-FAM, Kama La Mackerel (Metonymy) I’ve seen Kama La Mackerel perform, so while reading their debut collection the incantatory power of their poetry did not come as entirely a surprise. It’s one thing to hear a poem or two, though – another, to read a lyric collection that takes the reader on an arc from the poet’s birth to adulthood and a moment of emancipatory clarity. In Mauritian Creole, the title means “man-woman,” and this is a transgender story set among the legacies of Mauritius’s history as a plantation colony. For the poet (who now lives in Montreal), zom-fam is not only a description, it is an exclamation, a word that carries ancestral stories but also shows a way forward.
You Are Eating an Orange. You are Naked, Sheung-King (Book*hug, 182 pages). Two passages stand out. The first is after the narrator has told his girlfriend a folk tale, and she says, “The story tells us that the presence of ‘desire’ will always be there, but it doesn’t tell us to do anything about it.” We later hear that many of these East Asian folk tales are political allegories that say indirectly what cannot be said explicitly. The second is from a footnote about Wong Kar-wai’s film In the Mood for Love: “Summarizing Wong’s films is kind of pointless. They are explorations of feelings and ideas, less focused on plot.” These passages describe how this subtle novel of ideas is also full of feeling, the narrator’s desire for his girlfriend who has an enigmatic habit of disappearing.
Like A Bird, Fariha Róisín (Unnamed Press, 300 pages)
After finishing Australian-Canadian author Fariha Róisín’s debut novel, I thought about how its beginning reads like a different novel entirely, before the story takes a hard turn. At first, Like A Bird seems the typical story of a search for belonging among a multi-hyphenated American family, affluent as they are in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Taylia Chatterjee is the daughter of a white Jewish mother and an Indian immigrant father, and she has never been happy. As it turns out, this is a long set-up for what comes next, when Taylia’s parents betray what lies beneath their liberal self-image, and Taylia is forced to search for happiness on her own.
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