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Friday, 2 May 2008

May 2008 Antilles book of the month: The Same Earth, by Kei Miller

In an average month, dozens of new Caribbean books arrive at the CRB office. Not all of them get reviewed in the magazine--too many books, not enough pages--and because we are a quarterly with a rather long lead time, sometimes months can pass between a book's arrival and its appearance in our pages.

Well, for better or worse, the WWW offers the possibility of near-instant gratification, so here is the first instalment in what I plan to make a regular feature on Antilles: our book of the month. Every month I'll choose from among the pile of newly arrived books one that seems worth recommending to Antilles readers. The choice will be entirely subjective, of course. Perhaps it will be a title I find intriguing for some reason, one that seems to offer important information or a compelling argument. Perhaps it will simply be a book that brings me pleasure. The first Antilles book of the month is in that latter category: Kei Miller's first novel, The Same Earth, published in March by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

From the publisher's website:

It all begins with the theft of Tessa Walcott's polkadot panties and a river that changes course overnight...

When Imelda Richardson leaves the small village of Watersgate, Jamaica, armed only with one small suitcase, she is doing so for the second time. One of the throng of young Jamaicans who left the island after the devastating hurricane of 1974, Imelda's journey has taken her to England, to the home of ganja-growing rebel Purletta Johnson, the arms of fake Northerner Ozzie, and a law degree. But when her mother dies Imelda returns to Watersgate, choosing Jamaica over England. 1983 is still a couple of years shy of the great dancehall explosion in which artistes like Shabba Ranks would sing how he 'loved punany bad', and the village is still dominated by the Evangelical church and the thundering voice of Pastor Braithwaite. When Tessa Walcott's panties are stolen -- and in the absence of Perry Mason -- she and Imelda decide to set up a Neighbourhood Watch. But they haven't counted on Pastor Braithwaite and the crusading zeal of Evangelist Millie. As a Pentecostal fervour sweeps through the village, the tensions between old and new come to a head.

(Miller is something of a favourite here at Antilles, as regular readers will know. Almost a year ago, we ran an interview with him; last July the CRB hosted him at a reading and public conversation in Port of Spain; and on that same visit to Trinidad, he recorded a podcast with CRB friend and contributor Georgia Popplewell. The CRB has published two of his poems in our May 2007 issue; his review of a book by James Berry in November 2007; and a review of his first two books by Edward Baugh in February 2007. The May 2008 CRB includes a review by Vahni Capildeo of Miller's second book of poems and the New Caribbean Poetry anthology he recently edited.)

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