Saturday, July 7, 2012

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Barbados author Karen Lord drives Redemption in Indigo with the voice of a storyteller experienced at controlling her audience: "A rival of mine once complained that my stories begin awkwardly and end untidily. I am willing to admit to many faults, but I will not burden my conscience with that one. All my tales are true, drawn from life, and a life story is not a tidy thing."

There is nothing awkward or untidy about Lord's retelling of a Senegalese folktale. It feels both timeless and fresh, neatly packaged in under 200 pages. 

Paama abandoned her husband Ansige after 10 years and moved back in with her family in a village in Africa (or maybe the Caribbean?). Gossips try to get the dirt from her, but Paama will not be drawn in. "The village longed for word on just what was the situation with Paama's marriage, but no-one could break past Paama when she decided to be earnest. She had the talent of speaking many things with little meaning, the gift of red herrings."

The truth is that Ansige is a prodigious glutton who cannot see past his own selfishness. "Ansige unreeled the tale of his tribulations, thoroughly ransacking the truth and then dipping into the bag of embellishment and sprinkling with a free hand." He is the buffoon of the story.

When Paama is given a supernatural stick that controls the powers of chaos, a djombi with indigo skin comes looking for her. This trickster holds humans in contempt, but finds he has things to learn from them.

Readalikes: For a similarly strong storyteller's voice, but without supernatural elements, try No Sweetness Here (Ama Ata Aidoo) or The Long Song (Andrea Levy). The Icarus Girl (Helen Oyeyemi) has some elements of African folklore - a nonhuman being who takes the form of a child - but in a more contemporary setting. The Icarus Girl is also darker and less straight-forward than Redemption in Indigo. For trickster stories from a different part of the world, I recommend the graphic novel collection Trickster: Native American Tales (compiled by Matt Dembicki). Ansige also reminded me of the much scarier glutton in Skeleton Man (Joseph Bruchac).

Note added July 14, 2012: Gav and Simon have a great interview with the author and then discuss the book on their podcast, The Readers.

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