When I was making my list of books to read for each country, I noticed that it was pretty heavily weighted toward male authors. With that in mind, I actively sought out women writers to balance out my reading. My research led me to a woman author named Karen Lord from Barbados, and that was how I came to read a completely different type of novel for this country, an island in the Caribbean, than I have been reading for other countries.
Lord’s novel, Redemption in Indigo, is a work of speculative fiction, although I would simply have called it a folk tale. It’s the story of a woman of good character named Paama, who is an excellent cook. Unfortunately, her husband Ansije is a glutton, and no matter how much food Paama makes for him, it is never enough. Paama finally decides to leave him and go back to her parents’ home. They, in turn, move the family back to their ancestral village in order to put some distance between Paama and Ansije.
As the narrator points out, however, “… Ansije was not the villain of the story. He was the joker, the momentary hindrance, the test of character for Paama’s growth and learning.” And since this is a folk tale, many of the book’s characters are not human. They are djombis, also known as the undying. As with humans, there are good djombis and bad djombis. There are also djombis who used to be benevolent towards humans, but who have since developed a less helpful attitude.
One such djombi, whose name is Indigo, has become particularly troublesome, so his djombi superiors have decided he needs to be taught a lesson. Because of her strength of character, they choose Paama to be their instrument in teaching Indigo that lesson.
Redemption in Indigo explores the choices people make, both good and bad. On the one hand, Ansije’s gluttony is “… truly the bathos of human experience, a gift of life and opportunity squandered and spoiled.” Paama’s character, on the other hand, is described thus: “Nothing stopped her from trying to do what she felt to be right, not even despair.”
I enjoyed the author’s wit and her ability to turn a phrase. Ansije’s “mother had been the daughter of a minor chief, and she had carefully instilled in Ansije an understanding of the importance of importance,” was one observation that made me laugh, especially considering all the stars of pop culture to whom that phrase might apply. All in all, this novel made for very enjoyable reading.
Although the author is from Barbados, the setting for Redemption in Indigo is a fictional country, with made-up towns and villages, so the food mentioned in the book wasn’t necessarily the food of Barbados. One thing that came up more than once, however, and seemed like something that could probably be found anywhere in the Caribbean, was a drink Paama had when she visited the House of the Sisters:
“Within an hour or so, Paama was sitting on a mat before a low table set with simple but delicious refreshments: fruit, soft cheese, semisweet cakes laden with nuts, and the drink the House had made famous – lime juice with just the right proportions of mint and ginger.”
I found a recipe at myrecipes.com that sounded exactly like what Sister Jani served Paama, and it was fabulous!
Just in case the ginger limeade isn’t actually something one would drink in Barbados, I decided to try another recipe too. Cou cou, made of okra and cornmeal, is apparently one of the national dishes of Barbados. The recipe I used was from a website called Caribbeanchoice.com. Since I couldn’t find fresh okra, I had to use frozen. It never thickened up the way it was supposed to, but it would make a decent side dish.
My donation for Barbados is going to Variety the Children’s Charity, an organization with chapters all over the world. The chapter in Barbados is “committed to supporting the children of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, especially those who are sick, physically or mentally challenged, through the improvement of the care given to them and the quality of their lives in general.” More information about Variety the Children’s Charity of Barbados is available at http://varietybarbados.org/.
NEXT STOP: BELARUS