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The Salt Roads Paperback – November 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In beautiful prose, Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads tells how Ezili, the African goddess of love, becomes entangled in the lives of three women. Grief-powered prayers draw Ezili into the physical world, where she finds herself trapped by her lost memories and by the spiritual effects of the widespread evil of slavery. Her consciousness alternates among the bodies/minds of several women throughout time, but she resides mostly in three women: Mer, an Afro-Caribbean slave woman/midwife; Jeanne Duval, Afro-French lover of decadent Paris poet Charles Baudelaire; and Meritet, the Greek-Nubian slave/prostitute known to history as St. Mary of Egypt.

Ezili becomes entangled with Mer because the midwife's prayers helped draw her into the mortal world. The novel presents a reasonable, though undeveloped, connection between Meritet/St. Mary, the Virgin Mary, and the goddesses of Africa. However, it's not clear why Ezili becomes entangled with Jeanne Duval. This is because The Salt Roads is sketchy, its three storylines compressed; the novel reads more like three novellas incompletely braided. This is a shame, because each mortal character's life could have made a fine, full, fascinating novel by itself.

John W. Campbell Award winner Nalo Hopkinson's first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, the New York Times Notable Book Midnight Robber, was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and James Tiptree Jr. Awards. The Salt Roads is her third novel. --Cynthia Ward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Whirling with witchcraft and sensuality, this latest novel by Hopkinson (Skin Folk; Midnight Robber) is a globe-spanning, time-traveling spiritual odyssey. When three Caribbean slave women, led by dignified doctress Mer, assemble to bury a stillborn baby on the island of Saint Domingue (just before it is renamed Haiti in 1804), Ezili, the Afro-Caribbean goddess of love and sex, is called up by their prayers and lamentations. Drawing from the deceased infant's "unused vitality," Ezili inhabits the bodies of a number of women who, despite their remoteness from each other in time and space, are bound to each other by salt-be it the salt of tears or the salt that baptized slaves into an alien religion. The goddess's most frequent vehicle is Jeanne Duval, a 19th-century mulatto French entertainer who has a long-running affair with bohemian poet Charles Baudelaire. There is also fourth-century Nubian prostitute Meritet, who leaves a house of ill repute to follow a horde of sailors, but finds religion and a call to sainthood. Meanwhile, the seed of revolution is planted in Saint Domingue as the slaves hatch a plan to bring down their white masters. Ezili yearns to break free from Jeanne's body to act elsewhere, but can do so only when Jeanne, now infected with syphilis, is deep in dreams. Fearing that she will disappear when death finally calls Jeanne, Ezili is drawn into the body of Mer at a cataclysmic moment and is just as quickly tossed back into other narratives. Though occasionally overwrought, the novel has a genuine vitality and generosity. Epic and frenetic, it traces the physical and spiritual ties that bind its characters to each other and to the earth.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446677132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446677134
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a novelist, editor, short story writer. I also teach, and I freelance sometimes as an arts consultant. Most of my books have been published by Warner Books, now known as Grand Central Books. If you like knowing about awards and such, my work has received the Warner Aspect First Novel award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian literature of the fantastic, the World Fantasy Award, the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and Honourable Mention in Cuba's Casa de las Americas Prize for literature.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Brown Girl VINE VOICE on November 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads centers on the spirit, Ezili's (a goddess of love and seduction) emergence in three women throughout time. The reader gets a glimpse of her in Mer, a lesbian slave woman healer, in the early 1800's on the Caribbean island of St. Domingue (Haiti) during a burial of a stillborn child. The second appearance is in the 1880's within Jeanne, a mulatto Parisian dancer and mistress to a white poet whose purse strings are controlled by his domineering mother. The third woman, Meritet, is a prostitute in an ancient (340's A.D.) Egyptian brothel.
Although these women exist during different time periods, Ezili seems to emerge, exist, and influence each woman simultaneously. With Jeanne, she appears in dreams, and wants to live, act, and breathe through her until Jeanne is physically scarred and disabled from the ravages of a sexually transmitted disease. Mer receives her awakening during a riverside burial ceremony of a stillborn child and Meritet has an instance of self-awareness that allows her to experience the independence of Ezili.
Aside from the Ezili storyline, each main character has her fair share of drama, heartbreak, and intrigue. Each are a victim of circumstance; in worlds that were cruel to the black woman. Mer deals with the harsh reality of plantation life and the impending slave revolt that secured Haiti its freedom from colonial rule. The author expertly embeds regional history and folklore into Mer's story. An aging Jeanne struggles with securing her future as a courtesan in a world in which her skin color places her at a disadvantage and Meritet journeys from whoredom to sainthood.
This book is full of symbolism (the incorporation of the value, taste, and healing power of salt, etc. throughout the novel is superb).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This "Salt Roads" of this historical/magical realist novel are the trails of sweat, tears, and blood that course through women's lives. Separate narratives intertwine here, each wrought with the precision and lyricism of a short story, but together they produce a true novel of compelling scope. The settings range from Baudelaire's Paris to the cane fields of French-ruled Haiti, from early Christian Alexandria to the present day. The threads of slavery, childbirth, love affairs, and accidental sainthood are by turns comic, angry, and earthily sensual.
Rich with historical detail and human intimacies, the book sometimes pulls back to a goddess-like view, contemplating the slow changes that have transformed women's lives over the centuries--but never losing its light, witty touch. In short, a very big novel with many finely crafted and exquisite parts.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Josh Aterovis on October 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mer, a healer and midwife, is an African slave on a sugar plantation on Saint Domingue (renamed Haiti in 1804). Jeanne Duval is an Afro-French dancer and courtesan living in Paris, and the mistress of 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire. Meritet is a Greek-Nubian prostitute in fourth-century Egypt, better known to the world as Saint Mary. Something connects these three women across the span of time--something larger than any of these women could ever suspect.

When three Caribbean slave women, led by Mer, come together to bury one of the women's stillborn son, their powerful grief and prayers call the attention of Ezili, an African-Caribbean goddess. Using the unused life force of the dead child, Ezili moves back and forth across time, possessing and working her will through various bodies.

Jeanne is one of the goddess' most frequent vehicles--mainly because Ezili finds herself inexplicably tethered to the beautiful French dancer. She is free to inhabit other bodies only when Jeanne, slowly dying of syphilis, is in a deep dream state. Ezili plants the seeds of revolution in Saint Domingue through Mer, and sends Meritet on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

What all these women have in common is salt--in all its various forms. Whether the salt of tears, the salt of the ocean, or the salt of sweat, the goddess travels the Salt Roads to accomplish her goal. The question is "What is her goal?" Not even Ezili fully understands at first, but as she grows more powerful, and comes to know the many aspects of herself, all is revealed--both to her and the reader.

Author Nalo Hopkinson beautifully weaves her stories together in a broken narrative, jumping back and forth through time and between characters.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This fabulist tale begins on the island of Saint Domingue, eventually known as Haiti, the scene of slave revolutions and oppressive masters. On one dark night, three slave women bury the tiny body of a stillborn, returning him to the earth. Each of the women experiences an unsettling sensation, in fact, the birth of a goddess, Elizi, brought forth from the depths of their grief. The afro-Caribbean goddess exemplifies the enduring strengths, eternal beauty and fertility of womanhood in all its permutations, evolving over time, as she inhabits the world through three specific women.
The first woman who hosts Ezili is Jeanne Duval, a half-black, half-white dancer, who has captured the heart of poet Charles Baudelaire in 1842 Paris. Baudelaire is Jeanne's only hope for the future, as her present is riddled by poverty and it's inherent pitfalls. The poet comes from a wealthy family, although his mother eventually disowns him after his many years of cohabitation with his sultry and sensual mistress. The reader sees Paris through the eyes of this woman, who pleasures a wealthy man to maintain her place in society.
Changing time and place, in 1792 the island of Saint Dominigue's economy is driven by sugar cane, the slaves endlessly toiling in the fields, harvesting the lucrative cane crop. Most of these slaves have come on slave ships from Africa, their life spans shortened by perpetual hunger and exotic diseases indigenous to the island. The second visitation of the goddess is through Mer, an older slave. Gifted in the healing arts, Mer attends the slaves on the plantation, burdened by her intimate awareness of their shameful existence. Mer communicates directly with the ocean goddess, who speaks to her of salt: the salt of tears, of the ocean and the womanly rites of passage.
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