Bookshelf (Jan/Feb 2022) | Book reviews

This month’s Caribbean reading election, with a review of Dangerous Freedom by Lawrence Scott; How a one-armed sister cleans her house of Cherie Jones; The Unordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Space-Time, and Dreams Postponed by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein; and Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex, and the Law of the Caribbean, Andil Gosine

Dangerous Freedom

by Lawrence Scott (Papillote Press, 290 pages, ISBN 9781999776862)

Dido Belle is perhaps best known for his stunning 1779 portrait of David Martin, in which he stands next to his cousin and companion Lady Elizabeth Murray. What lies behind her enigmatic gaze is the work Dangerous freedom, A gentle fictional revision of Lawrence Scott of what Dido’s life really could have had in its most private moments. Elizabeth d’Aviniere – Dido’s married name – moves through states of duality in the late eighteenth century: a mixed race, set in London’s Kenwood House but always aware of her dubious notion of respectability, fearful as a young mother for the possible fate of her children in the hands of slaveholders. Scott illuminates the vague areas of Elizabeth’s liberties, depicting neglected domestic and social exchanges in a dazzling narrative portrait. In its best moments, the novel pulls the connective emotional tissue between Elizabeth and her mother, revealing the abysses of love and loss.

Like a one-armed sister cleaning her house

by Cherie Jones (Little, Brown, 289 pages, ISBN 9780316537001)

Women around the world are dying because men can’t control their anger: this gloomy manifesto has been typed into the pages of Cherie Jones’ debut novel, Like a one-armed sister cleaning her house. Taking a picture of a luxury resort in the Caribbean as an immediate task, Jones reveals cracked teeth behind a grinning façade of respectability, both in and out of the bedroom. Lala, the protagonist of this antifantasy, lies next to her violent husband on Adana’s bicycle, using a life of violence into which she is pushed against the hope of security, help, a kind of warmth at home that has little to do with the heat of Barbados. Nothing about these characters or their circumstances promises consolation, but the painful machinery of the book is full of hope: Lala is doing everything she can, despite the unfathomable prospects, to survive her life.

Unordered cosmos: Delayed journey into dark matter, space-time and dreams

by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (Bold books, 336 pages, ISBN 9781541724709)

If a racist shouts epithets into a black hole, will any star be around to hear its echo? Barbadian-American theoretical cosmologist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein discovers systemic racism even among celestial bodies. The unorganized cosmos removes layers of institutional disenfranchisement of the black intellect in STEM fields, with a special focus on astronomy and physics. What emerges in this extraordinary study is not just science: personal essays and cultural criticism sit together with explanations of the theory that combine depth and accessibility. The future of science, Prescod-Weinstein confirms, must be open to black girls and children everywhere, so there are no more lone exceptions like her studying laboratories. This work rises with curious passion.

Nature’s Wild: love, sex and law in the Caribbean

by Andil Gosine (Duke University Press, 192 pages, ISBN 9781478014584)

“I’d realize I’ve deviated from something.” U Nature’s Wild, Trinidadian-Canadian scholar and artist Andil Gosine does not count on anything less vulnerable and complex than himself. By questioning his origins in rural Trinidad, his migration to Canada as a teenager, and his life in art and activism, Gosine provides a vast canvas for examining sexual autonomy in Caribbean cultures. Revealing homophobic structures that criminalize and reject queerness as a remnant of rigid colonialism, the book engages its reader in a celebration of “wilderness.” We all need to be open to becoming freer: this is a gathering, community-oriented cry wildlife, which dedicates an entire segment to the radical pioneering resistance of the late Colin Robinson, whose LGBTQI + work is fondly remembered here.

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