Redemption in Indigo
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by Karen Lord
Description: Winner of the Frank Collymore Award, Karen Lord's debut novel is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit. Paama's husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents' home in the village of Makendha--now he's disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn.
When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones--the djombi-- who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.
Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord's world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale--but Paama's adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [247 KB]
Reading time: 154-216 min.
"Full of sharp insights and humorous asides ("I know your complaint already. You are saying, how do two grown men begin to see talking spiders after only three glasses of spice spirit?"), Redemption extends the Caribbean Island storyteller's art into the 21st century and hopefully, beyond."
"A great deal happens in the novel's relatively short course, but confusion is minimal because Lord has found the ideal voice for the narrator--feminine yet authoritative, amusing yet soothing, omniscient yet humble. This is one of those literary works of which it can be said that not a word should be changed."
--Booklist *Starred Review*
"Lord's debut, a retelling of a Senegalese folktale, packs a great deal of subtly alluring storytelling into this small package?. An unnamed narrator, sometimes serious and often mischievous, spins delicate but powerful descriptions of locations, emotions, and the protagonists' great flaws and great strengths as they interact with family, poets, tricksters, sufferers of tragedy, and--of course--occasional moments of pure chaos."
--Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*
"The impish love child of Tutuola and Garcia Marquez. Utterly delightful."
--Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring)
"Adventure, mystery, familial relations, discourse of power, ananse, the spirit world--a difficult mix/transition between conventional 'plot'/narrative and magical realism--between cooking and xtreme lyric--beyond the boundary of what we conventionally/conveniently think of as 'Bajam', as 'West Indian writing', but part of and contribution to the 'new generation' of Caribbean imprint, pioneered by Lawrence Scott (TT/UK), in development now by Nalo Hopkinson (Guyana/Canada), (Marina Warner's Indigo too?) and being incremented on/to by this challenging first novel by prize-winning Karen Lord of Barbados."
--Kamau Brathwaite (Born to Slow Horses)
"Drawing on a multicultural mélange of narrative traditions--both oral and written--this Barbadian author surprises. She tap dances across the conventional, using it to make spirited sounds. She twists out of tired modes: 'Once upon a time--but whether a time that was, or a time that is, or a time that is to come, I may not tell.' Then, Lord ends the tale by challenging 'those who utterly, utterly fear the dreaded Moral of the Story.' Expect a work that can revive this and other exhausted elements of story."
Why did Paama leave Ansige?
There are men of violence. There are men who drink. And then there was Ansige, a man with a vice so pathetic as to be laughable. He ate; he lived for his belly. No one would believe that a woman could leave a man for that, but before you scoff, consider this. With his gluttony, he drew in other sins--arrogance complicated by indolent stupidity, lust for comfort, ire when thwarted, avarice in all his business dealings, and a strange conviction that always, somehow, there was some undeserving person who had more food than he did.
I can hear some of you complaining already. 'A woman who cooks and a man who eats should be a match made in heaven!' Do you really think so? Then you have not grasped that Ansige was not an epicure, but a gourmand. Paama's talents were wasted on him.
Whatever his faults, he was not yet so far gone in discourtesy as to try turning up unannounced. Unfortunately, the messenger who brought the tidings to Makendha made sure that everyone knew, and wherever Paama went, she heard this half query:
'I hear that your husband is coming to Makendha.'
Paama's usual response to this was to breathe deeply, gather herself, and beam forth a brilliant smile. 'Isn't it marvellous? When I visit my family he gets so lonely. He cannot do without me.'
Any gossip thus treated would then tilt her head doubtfully, smile uncertainly, and go away dissatisfied. The village longed for word on just what was the situation with Paama's marriage, but no-one could break past Paama when she decided to be earnest. She had the talent of speaking many things with little meaning, the gift of red herrings.
Fortunately she did not have to red-herring the gossips about the date of his arrival. Ansige was one week late, turning up all but unexpected, looking around for his welcoming committee. But no, before we describe his arrival, it would be worthwhile to relate the event that caused the delay, for it was rather unusual and makes a good story in itself.
Ansige had set out with an entourage as grand as any minor chief. He had a veritable herd of quadrupeds--eight mules for his baggage and one horse for him to ride. Amid the baggage were bundled sections of wood which, when assembled, would become the light carriage in which he would make his grand entrance into Makendha.
He couldn't help himself. His mother had been the daughter of a minor chief, and she had carefully instilled in Ansige an understanding of the importance of importance. Dutiful son, he followed this instruction to the letter, for the longer the baggage train, the more of his favourite foods he could carry with him.
This is not to say that Ansige was above living off the land, which was why his two mule drivers were both expert hunters, and one was also a reasonably talented chef. The household of Ansige had many such multiskilled persons--a side effect of Ansige's curious mingling of parsimony and ostentatiousness.
Experienced in providing for Ansige, they had brought a formidable array of equipment. They carried with them both the long throwing spears needed for swift, running game and the short thrusting spears most effective with ground-crawling game. One was skilled with the bow, the other with a blowpipe, and the points of their arrows and darts had been dipped in poison. There was material for fashioning traps and snares; hooks and a quantity of fishing line for when they travelled alongside the river; assorted scaling, skinning, jointing, dressing, and carving knives; and racks and bags for the hunters to carry their kill to camp.
It is not necessary to discuss the pots, pans, cutlery and crockery. These are not worth commenting on; they were very basic since Ansige was not particularly interested in the presentation once the food was tasty and plentiful. Besides, a little privation was to be expected during travel.
This, as you can appreciate, implied a leisurely trip, for who has time to move quickly while hunting and then cooking so much meat? However, Ansige did not expect the hunters to be out every day. They were his insurance, a safety net in case anything should happen to the food stores.
In fact, the bulk of the baggage was food. Five bags of coarsely ground meal, two bags of finely ground meal, and one bag of sugar covered the backs of one mule pair, while ten packets of dried fruit, twenty dozen eggs (carefully packed in a hay-stuffed crate), and seven sacks of rice weighed down another. Further down, there were three crates of dried, salted fish and two boxes of dried, salted beef. These provided the base for the large pot of highly seasoned pepperpot, which was placed on the campfire at every lunch and dinner, but fresh meat was also used to replenish the stock. Smaller boxes contained assorted sweetmeats and delicacies for Ansige to munch on; packets of spice tree bark to brew Ansige's favourite drink; and--the pièce de résistance--a bottle of strong sugar brandy, for medicinal purposes.
Now you understand why Ansige had sent messages and servants to Paama. Travel was for him a serious and frightening undertaking which threatened to pinch off the umbilical cord that kept him tethered to his house. His journey to Makendha would take only three days, but he had taken every precaution so as not to arrive haggard and starved out.
Truth to tell, his frame looked as if it would take far more than three days' worth of racking to pare it down. Ansige was not flabby, no, but he was solid. Layers of muscle braced the fat around his arms, legs, and shoulders. Only his belly betrayed him. He carried a prosperous paunch before him and occasionally stroked it as fondly as any expectant mother cradling her womb.
A prosperous, slightly pompous businessman, then, was the first impression Ansige gave to strangers. Ansige's outer appearance could be deceptive, but, given enough time, he let everyone know who and what he was.
There are people who inspire others to reach lofty goals. Ansige was one of these. People got to know him, and it came to them in a flash of revelation that whatever it was that they wanted to be, it was not a man like Ansige, and they scrambled to occupy the opposite end of the accomplishment spectrum. People have heroes whom they imitate; Ansige was the perfect anti hero. No-one wanted to turn out like him.
How then, you may ask, and wisely so, were Paama and her parents so thoroughly fooled? They do not appear to be stupid people. There again we must thank Ansige's mother. She had come to realise that the only way Ansige was going to give her any grandchildren was if she sent him to a place reasonably distant where no-one had heard of him or seen his follies. She had selected Paama in Erria for her famous cooking, and then she had rented a small restaurant nearby so that she could stuff Ansige's roaring appetite silent before sending him off, sated and sane, to woo Paama and impress her family. I do not doubt that she may have had her more royal relatives speak to the chief of Makendha and the bureaucrats of Erria and encourage them to pass on to Paama's family a good report of her son. What else could she have done? It is a heavy burden, as Paama's parents had found out, to find a worthy spouse for one's offspring, but how much harder the task and heavier the burden when not even love can hide from a doting mother's eyes the sad fact of her son's utter ineligibility.
Now that you have seen Ansige and heard something of his background, imagine the temper of a man like that when he finds a wash of landslid mud has covered the road ahead of him, the road leading to Makendha.