Multi-Layered Tapestry of What It Is To Be Bajan: “How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House” debut novel from Cherie Jones

How do you come to love a book?

This is a paraphrasure of a sub-plot in chapter 25 of the debut novel of Cherie Jones, caught up by ABC TV’s Good Morning America’s Book Club – it has devoured the attention of bibliophiles on both sides of the Atlantic, I was sent the video by a friend and I immediately posted it in my Instagram. I am pleased to give you a first hand review and I am avoiding spoilers in the main…

It was a revelation to me how Cherie was a writer, I recalled her as a quiet yet affable Corporate Lawyer for CBC during the latter half of my career there. Her book is incredible and very explicit and vivid, this is a Barbados not normally seen, which is probably part of why it was written.

It was a revelation to me how Cherie was a writer, I recalled her as a quiet yet affable Corporate Lawyer for CBC during the latter half of my career there. Her book is incredible and very explicit and vivid, this is a Barbados not normally seen, which is probably part of why it was written.

The characters don’t just leap at you, you feel like it is an extreme virtual reality module where you are inside their heads. You are back in Barbados of the 70s and 80s plus other eras, the only thing missing is scents like the half-eaten bowl of Pudding & Souse of the sticky ichor and sweat of the many violent acts which pepper the book.

The violence is not there gratuitously, it acts like an embellishment or an explanation how one character feeds the next or creates a theme for generations down the road. So many times over the decades, Bajans of all hues ignore the most pressing matters or dangerous topics, sometimes treating victims as though they are the perpetrators with disastrous repercussions and yet they’re surprised when it comes back to haunt them? Such is the twisted vein of the generational tragedy with Wilma, Esme and the heroine Lala.

(UK Cover) Maybe if enough of us take the time to read this powerful story, we can realise the muteness is the danger not speaking or acting to prevent similar deeds down the road... It is an amazing accomplishment for a first time novelist, although Cherie did publish an anthology of poems in 2004.

(UK Cover) Maybe if enough of us take the time to read this powerful story, we can realise the muteness is the danger not speaking or acting to prevent similar deeds down the road… It is an amazing accomplishment for a first time novelist, although Cherie did publish an anthology of poems in 2004.

The book follows the stop and start of a truly star crossed romance between the heroine and Tone. Tone seems like a typical beach bum/gigolo/jet-ski man and yet he is not, his hideous strength and his unspoken quest of vengeance stem from a horrific tragedy in his late teens, it colors the rest of his days and makes him form an alliance with the gigantic Adan which eventually leads to the crescendo of the fantastic thriller.

Adan is a horrific brute with few tender spots, one being his unnamed daughter and the other is Jacinthe, the Bajan Yankee he secretly deems his true love.

The real story is the star crossed romance of Tone and Lala which for some reason made me think of Gabriel Marquez Garcia’s Love In The Time Of Cholera where love seldom runs true yet pervades over all characters. While Cherie’s 279 page thriller – as printed by Little, Brown and Company – shows the erratic river of love overcoming boulders of domestic violence and generations of silence.

When I messaged Cherie, I asked if there is a sequel, she replied how, no, this is a stand-alone, and she is in the process of another novel set in a neighboring Caribbean isle.

This book is clearly Barbados, it never says the name of the island and if anyone gets close to calling out a title, it is simplified to Paradise… While the English language used throughout is Standard, its syntax and grammar is very obviously of Bajan dialect structure.

A brilliant technique is when Cherie also comes wafer-thin close to breaking the 4th wall when invoking the 2nd Person in Chapters 13 (reviewing the course of the plot so far) and 20 (when Lala meets Napoleon Beckles) and it provides a necessary respite from the tension building up to the vital conclusion.

The book has a candid view of the posh villas for wintering foreigners, and the staff that peopled them and how their own lives had unfolded from generations of self-repression even though oppression was officially removed long ago. It examines why older Barbadians feel it is best to keep quiet and hold your corner even when you get unfaired, something that many younger Bajans are quite openly opposing, much to the horror of those who are now senior citizens.

Although it is set in Barbados, there are no easily discernible landmarks of reality, instead Baxter's Beach seems like Silver Sands mixed with parts of St James and St Peter.

Although it is set in Barbados, there are no easily discernible landmarks of reality, instead Baxter’s Beach seems like Silver Sands mixed with parts of St James and St Peter.

While Baxter’s General Hospital earns a description which is clearly Martindale’s Road; I easily echo and recognise the horror expressed in those pages, from my own many unfortunate experiences there. I can easily understand why many – if they can afford it, get medical attention elsewhere…

It will be good to look for when the National Pause concludes (17th or otherwise), since hopefully hard copies of this debut local thriller can adorn the shelves of places like all branches of the Cloister Bookstore or Pages, however, if you can’t wait there are E-copies via Amazon or Barnes and Noble, it is a wonderful Valentine’s gift and a magnificent first book to upload into a brand new Kindle or Tablet!

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