I recommend a lot of Caribbean books and authors so it can be a bit overwhelming to someone who is looking to get started in Reading Caribbean. Over the last few weeks I have had persons direct message me to say, “I want to join in on Read Caribbean but can you give me 2 books to start with?”. I almost always end up recommending short story collections, I think because it gives a new reader to the Caribbean experience a more nuanced and overall feel for Caribbean life. Here are some of my favorite short story collections:
Paintree by Olive Senior
I read my first Olive Senior book back in 2018 and I felt shame that I was sleeping on Senior for so long. I absolutely loved reading Paintree and I am happy this was my first introduction to Senior’s work because I got to see her range as an author.
There is only one way to describe Paintree… “deeply moving”. I cannot get over what an amazing Writer Olive Senior is. It takes an excellent writer to convey a range of emotions out of a reader in just 4-10 pages and every single story in this book moved me. I cannot pick one specific story because every single one could stand on it’s own.
Senior addresses themes of love, mother-daughter relationship, immigration amongst others. I wish I had the words to describe how great this book is. I cannot shut up about Oliver Senior’s writing. How she is able to write memorable characters in just 6 pages is beyond me, but I am making it my personal duty to go out and read all her works and you should too!
Where There Are Monsters by Breanne Mc Ivor
Mc Ivor did a great job of showcasing Trinidad and Tobago in a contemporary way and from a folklore perspective. I also feel that even if you are not from the Caribbean you will appreciate a lot if not all the stories in this collection.
Where There Are Monsters a debut collection of twelve stories. Mc Ivor plays on the title throughout the novel and makes us aware that monsters are not just the creepy crawly thing we so often hear about but also the people around us. The collection explores so many themes that are timely and relevant including mental illness, dating in the 21st century, domestic abuse, heartbreak, betrayal, infidelity and love.
Your heartbreaks for so many of the characters and what they are going through because of the “monsters” in their lives. From the young man who is struggle to catch a break and go out on a date with his crush, to the woman who was forced to have an abortion because her husband gaslight the hell out of her, to the woman whose husband mistress showed up pregnant at her door… the list goes on. As much as some of these stories are heart-breaking they are somehow also uplifting. You feel for the characters, sometimes pity but mostly pride.
Overall, a solid collection of short stories and I highly recommend you give it a read. I love the refreshing perspective Mc Ivor brought to this collection/ Caribbean literature.
How to Love A Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs
Whenever I am asked, “if you could recommend one book I should start reading for Read Caribbean month, what would it be?” Almost always Alexia Arthurs debut novel “How To Love A Jamaican” comes to mind. I must admit everything about this book appeals to me as a Jamaican so maybe I am a bit biased, but even with my Jamaican googles off this book is must-read.
I am so impressed with Alexia Arthur’s writing; she perfectly captures the various nuances of the Jamaican culture and its people. If you are looking for a solid collection of short stories that is diverse and beautifully explore the themes of love, identity, immigration, mother-daughter relationship then this is your go too collection
I would list my favorite stories in this book but I would basically be re-writing the content page (lol). A must read and absolute favorite of mine
Frying Plantain by Zalika Benta-Reid
Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta is an amazing and wonderous debut novel that you will fly through and absolutely love- I promise you!
Frying Plantain is a collection of twelve interconnected stories that follows Kara Davis from elementary school to university. Kara Davis is a Canadian by birth, both her mother and grandmother are Jamaican. The neighbourhood she lives in is a melting pot of Caribbean people and cultures. Kara is trying to fit in with her Jamaican friends but they think she isn’t a “true Jamaican”, she also tries to find balance and friendship with the children she goes to schools with but they are from a different world.
What I loved about this book is how truly authentic the narrative feels. Benta captures exactly what it feels like to be a teenager and all the fears that goes into growing up. More specifically Benta captures exactly what it feels to be a teenager from Caribbean parents who drill into your head “do not turn out like me”. As much as Kara is a young girl from Caribbean heritage her story feels so relatable. For the girl who lives in fear of her Mom, who is constantly sneaking around or having to hide things and is always that person who cannot hang out with her friends because her Mom doesn’t allow it- you know that girl- that is Kara.
This is such a rich collection of interconnected stories. The characters are well formed, and you can relate to each of their story. I loved how Benta explored Grandmother-Mother-Daughter relationships- it was rich and fully formed- I could not get enough of it.
A truly amazing debut novel and I cannot wait to hear more from Zalika Reid-Benta.
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Everything Inside is a strong collection of stories filled with complex characters, all dealing with major issues, trying to navigate life with Haiti being sometimes at the center of the narrative. I am such a fan of Danticat’s writing, and I found myself being immersed in this collection and the lives of the people represented on the pages.
With eight stories in the collection, it is hard to zone in on one that truly floored me, because every single one of these stories I rated either 4 or 5. Danticat knows Haiti and I know when I pick up her book, I will be longing for a place I have never visited. The stories explore immigration, family life, relationships, poverty, courage and shame. These stories are explored in a such a real way and vulnerable way.
I particularly liked Dosas, The Port-Au-Prince Marriage Special, The Gift and Seven Stories These stories really moved me because of the topics explored and how complex the characters were. From the young privilege Haitian who wants move to Haiti and help change the country, to the mistress trying to rekindle her affair with her lover who lost his child and wife to the earthquake…. Truly an amazing collection of stories that will stick with you.
There you have it, some of my favorite Caribbean short stories to get you started on Reading Caribbean.