Special Issue:
Women & Voodoo
August '08

 

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The Salt Roads
by Nalo Hopkinson
ISBN: 0-446-53302-5
Published by Warner Books
Reviewed by Moira Richards

August 2008

Nalo Hopkinson’s third novel ignores the conventionally linear ideas of time and space and it cocks its snoot too, at the notion that what you see translates unequivocally into what you get. The four women of African descent whose stories make up The Salt Roads, live variously in eighteenth century Haiti, nineteenth century France, first century Egypt and in some other indefinable place located simultaneously in all and none of those.

The book acclaims the resilience of black women the world over and proffers new and refreshing insights into the roles that they played in the making of history. It posits too, the existence of a unifying spirit that connects these women to each other across the ages and that guides them through and beyond the despairs of their enslavements, both economic and sexual.

Hopkinson sets her work primarily against the two backgrounds of the early Haitian sugar plantations that grew rich off the labour of slaves stolen from various parts of the African continent, and in France with the story of dusky Jeanne Duval, long time mistress of Charles Baudelaire. The Salt Roads spends much time revisiting the history of slavery in the Caribbean and the first of the revolts by the slaves in the early 1790’s. Those rebellions culminated in 1804 with Haiti’s declaration of its independence from its colonisers and with its emergence two hundred and two years ago, as the world’s first African-governed republic.

The novel contrasts that thread smoothly with regular visits to the seemingly incongruous frivolity of Parisian nightlife where Jeanne Duval dances in the theatres for a living and attempts to drag herself out of poverty and prostitution. It diverts yet again on occasion to incorporate a cheeky interpretation of the life of Saint Mary of Egypt.

A warm tribute to lusty, feisty women by this Jamaican-born author, and the skin-tones of her characters celebrate beauty that ranges from ‘the colour of dirt in the cane fields’ through tones of ginger and copper to that of ‘steamed milk with a splash of high mountain coffee.’ Each woman revels in the unique loveliness of her body - even Jeanne Duval who wished initially for a skin less brown to ease her way through life. The novel portrays the wisdoms of its characters, their capacity for passion and survival, and it writes black women in a rare way that I for one hope to encounter far more often in world fiction.

Hopkinson's next novel, Blackheart Man, is due out in 2009. A prolific writer, she is currently editing and/or working on half a dozen projects.

PS: Everybody even if they’re not anybody has a blog nowadays. Visit Nalo’s to catch up on her writing, teaching and other current ‘‘blacktivities’’  -  http://nalohopkinson.com/blogmain



   

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