“The African powers, child. The spirits. The loas. The orishas. The oldest ancestors. You will hear people from Haiti and Cuba and Brazil and so call them different names. You will even hear some names I ain’t tell you, but we all mean the same thing… Each of we have a special one who is we father or mother, and no matter what we call it, whether Shango or Santeria or Voudun or what, we all doing the same thing. Serving the spirits.”
– Brown Girl in the Ring
This book was an absolute blast. Caribbean magical realism, a dystopian future, and an ending that had me in tears, both happy and sad. One hell of a ride that I can’t recommend enough.
Brown Girl in the Ring was written by queer, Jamaican-born author Nalo Hopkinson in the mid 90s. I was first introduced to Hopkinson after reading her short story “The Glass Bottle Trick” in Sisters of the Revolution, a feminist speculative fiction anthology edited by the VanderMeers. It was one of my favorite stories in the collection, and I knew I needed to add some of her full-length works to my list.
Brown Girl in the Ring follows Ti-Jeanne, a young woman living in dystopian Toronto. The city has collapsed, and is now run by a ruthless gang, while all of the rich folks have migrated to the suburbs. Ti-Jeanne and her newborn baby live with her grandmother, Mami, who is the resident healer. Despite her best efforts, Ti-Jeanne finds herself swept up in the world of magic as she tries to save herself and her family from the evil that has forced its way into their lives.
While this book definitely had its dark and harrowing moments, after finishing the book, all I can think about is how much fun it was. The West Indian mythology made it such unique adventure; I have never read anything quite like this (it reminded me a bit of Count Zero, with deities “riding” people). The mostly-happy ending with an anti-capitalist cherry on top was delightful. I am definitely looking forward to diving into more of Hopkinson’s work.