As the fiction selector, I spend a lot of time examining trends. Over the last ten years, I have noticed Caribbean literature growing. There are so many wonderfully written novels coming out of the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora that have been exploding on the international literary scene. This explosion is due to many factors: the area has a massive literary support system, festivals, press coverage, social media presence, and award winning books. There is also a hashtag you can follow if you want to learn more: #ReadCaribbean .
Below is a list of new contemporary fiction to read to celebrate the Caribbean literary scene. The descriptions are provided by the publisher and/or author.
The God of Good Looks by Breanne McIvor
Bianca Bridge has always dreamt of becoming a writer. But Trinidadian society can be unforgiving, and having an affair with a married government official is a sure-fire way to ruin your prospects. So when Obadiah Cortland, a notoriously tyrannical entrepreneur in the island’s beauty scene, offers her a job, Bianca accepts, realizing that working on his magazine is the closest to her dreams she’ll get.
As Bianca begins to embrace her power and creative voice, she starts to suspect Obadiah is not the elite tyrant he seems. She’s right. Born in one of the poorest parts of Trinidad, Obadiah has clawed partway up society’s ladder and built his company around his meticulously crafted persona. Now, he’s not about to let anyone, especially Bianca, see past his façade.
When Bianca’s ex-lover threatens everything she’s rebuilt, jeopardizing all she’s come to love about her new life, she’s surprised to find support from the most unlikely ally and, finally, draws the strength to fight back like her mother taught her.
When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
In the old house on a hill, where the city meets the rainforest, Yejide’s mother is dying. She is leaving behind a legacy that now passes to Yejide: one St Bernard woman in every generation has the power to shepherd the city’s souls into the afterlife. But after years of suffering her mother’s neglect and bitterness, Yejide is looking for a way out.
Raised in the countryside by a devout Rastafarian mother, Darwin has always abided by the religious commandment not to interact with death. He has never been to a funeral, much less seen a dead body. But when the only job he can find is grave digging, he must betray the life his mother built for him in order to provide for them both. Newly shorn of his dreadlocks and his past, and determined to prove himself, Darwin finds himself adrift in a city electric with possibility and danger.
Yejide and Darwin will meet inside the gates of Fidelis, an ancient and sprawling cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both.
Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks
Set amid the Jamaican diaspora in London at the dawn of 1980s, a mesmerizing story of love, loss, and self-discovery that vibrates with the liberating power of music
Yamaye lives for the weekend, when she goes raving with her friends, the “Tombstone Estate gyals,” at The Crypt, an underground dub reggae club in their industrial town on the outskirts of London. Raised by her distant father after her mother’s disappearance when she was a girl, Yamaye craves the oblivion of sound – a chance to escape into the rhythms of those smoke-filled nights, to discover who she really is in the dance-hall darkness.
When Yamaye meets Moose, a soulful carpenter who shares her Jamaican heritage, a path toward a different kind of future seems to open. But then, Babylon rushes in. In a devastating cascade of violence that pits state power against her loved ones and her community, Yamaye loses everything. Friendless and adrift, she embarks on a dramatic journey of transformation that takes her to the Bristol underworld and, finally, to Jamaica, where past and present collide with explosive consequences.
Popisho by Leone Ross
Everyone in Popisho was born with a little something-something, boy, a little something extra. The local name was cors. Magic, but more than magic. A gift, nah? Yes. From the gods: a thing so inexpressibly your own.
Somewhere far away—or maybe right nearby—lies an archipelago called Popisho. A place of stunning beauty and incorrigible mischief, destiny and mystery, it is also a place in need of change.
Xavier Redchoose is the macaenus of his generation, anointed by the gods to make each resident one perfect meal when the time is right. Anise, his long-lost love, is on a march toward reckoning with her healing powers. The governor’s daughter, Sonteine, still hasn’t come into her cors, but her corrupt father is demanding the macaenus make a feast for her wedding. Meanwhile, graffiti messages from an unknown source are asking hard questions. A storm is brewing. Before it comes, before the end of the day, this wildly imaginative narrative will take us across the islands, through their history, and into the lives of unforgettable characters.
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
A major debut, blazing with style and heart, that follows a Jamaican family striving for more in Miami, and introduces a generational storyteller.
In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes on through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what the younger son, Trelawny, calls “the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive.”
Masterfully constructed with heart and humor, the linked stories in Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You center on Trelawny as he struggles to carve out a place for himself amid financial disaster, racism, and flat-out bad luck. After a fight with Topper, Trelawny claws his way out of homelessness through a series of odd, often hilarious jobs. Meanwhile, his brother, Delano, attempts a disastrous cash grab to get his kids back, and his cousin Cukie looks for a father who doesn’t want to be found. As each character searches for a foothold, they never forget the profound danger of climbing without a safety net.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister. It’s a cautionary tale, about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers and go into the Baxter’s Tunnels. When she’s grown, Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven into the Tunnels by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom – and their lives.
Monster in the Middle by Tiphanie Yanique
When Fly and Stela meet in 21st Century New York City, it seems like fate. He’s a Black American musician from a mixed-religious background who knows all about heartbreak. She’s a Catholic science teacher from the Caribbean, looking for lasting love. But are they meant to be? The answer goes back decades—all the way to their parents’ earliest loves.
Vibrant and emotionally riveting, Monster in the Middle moves across decades, from the U.S. to the Virgin Islands to Ghana and back again, to show how one couple’s romance is intrinsically influenced by the family lore and love stories that preceded their own pairing. What challenges and traumas must this new couple inherit, what hopes and ambitions will keep them moving forward? Exploring desire and identity, religion and class, passion and obligation, the novel posits that in order to answer the question “who are we meant to be with?” we must first understand who we are and how we came to be.
Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein
Trinidad in the 1940s, nearing the end of American occupation and British colonialism. On a hill overlooking Bell Village sits the Changoor farm, where Dalton and Marlee Changoor live in luxury unrecognizable to those who reside in the farm’s shadow. Down below is the Barrack, a ramshackle building of wood and tin, divided into rooms occupied by whole families. Among these families are the Saroops—Hans, Shweta, and their son, Krishna, all three born of the barracks. Theirs are hard lives of backbreaking work, grinding poverty, devotion to faith, and a battle against nature and a social structure designed to keep them where they are.
But when Dalton goes missing and Marlee’s safety is compromised, farmhand Hans is lured by the promise of a handsome stipend to move to the farm as a watchman. As the mystery of Dalton’s disappearance unfolds, the lives of the wealthy couple and those who live in the barracks below become insidiously entwined, their community changed forever and in shocking ways.
Do you have a favorite piece of Caribbean literature? Have you read any of these titles. Let us know in the comments.