Books: Balmy days on an island of visions
Julie Wheelwright savours the luscious pleasures of a tempestuous family saga
Saturday 13 November 1999
Change of the Moon
by Dionne Brand
Granta, pounds 14.99, 302pp
DIONNE BRAND'S luscious new novel features an Afro-Carribean Eve whose children leave Trinidad to travel all over the world, their lives weaving around one another in brilliant strands. Marie Ursule, the book's first mother, is a slave who foments a rebellion in 1824. When it fails, she prepares a poison from a native plant for an act of collective suicide. With her dying, she sees her descendants conjured up before her like a pageant.
The only ones to escape are Marie Ursule's three-year-old daughter, Bola, and her lover, Kamena, who search out ground where the Ursuline nuns' convent once stood. Bola lives on wild plants, sucking on stones and waiting for tidbits from her father on a crab- infested island. She has children by the men who travel through her Eden, and then farms them out or keeps them. Her fostered children might lose sight of her, but their own offspring are inexorably linked.
Cordelia, respectably married, suddenly discovers lust at the age of 53 after looking carefully at her body in a tall mirror. She gazes out the window and sees first the freezer repair man walk past and, then, a seamstress. When Cordelia's seams burst with longing, she rides the repair man on the kichen floor and plies the seamstress with rum. She even seduces a young boy addressing a revivalist meeting.
The boy, nicknamed Priest, is another of Bola's descendents who, fanning out from her silence, gain education and enter the gritty realism of modern immigrant life. Bola has "spread her children around so that they would never be gathered in the same place to come to the same harm". Children descended from Sayman, the child who fearfully traced Bola's footsteps in the sand, leave for North America in the 1970s. The most vulnerable are always brought back into the fold of this hard-loving, chaotic family.
Descending through the generations, Dionne Brand returns these children to their almost mythic beginnings. She is best known in Canada as a poet, and her prose pays sharp attention to detail, with sensual, often playful, descriptions. She injects a rhythm into her language and creates characters who burst with colour. This is a delicately structured, beautifully written novel, infused with rare emotional clarity.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law
- 2 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 3 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Couple die within 28 hours of each other after being married for 73 years
Goodfellas star Frank Sivero sues for $250m over Simpsons character
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
Breaking Bad season 6 hoax: Vince Gilligan has not confirmed a new series
MOBO awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with another double elimination
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'