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River Woman: A Novel Paperback
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From Publishers Weekly
The Rio Minho in Jamaica provides much more than a setting for this potent, accomplished debut. Hemans is an original, although she never seems to be making a point of her uniqueness. Born in Jamaica and educated in the States, she apparently hears life sung by a chorus, not a single voice. The novel opens with the drowning of three-year-old Timothy, as his teenage single mother, Kelithe, is washing clothes in the river with the other women of Standfast, a small town that seems a century behind the times. The drowning prompts the return of Kelithe's mother, Sonya, who had abandoned her for a life in the States, promising "soon-soon" to send for the girl. It is revealed that just before Timothy's death, Sonya finally made the offer concrete, but on condition that Kelithe leave the boy behind. Abandonment is a major theme here not only by parents but by a government that has broken all its promises to Standfast and the myth of the beautiful but treacherous river mother, the Mumma, is a recurring metaphor throughout. Sonya returns to Jamaica for the funeral and finds the townsfolk united in their conviction that Kelithe stood by and let Timothy die so she could slip away unburdened to a new life in America. Will Sonya come to her daughter's defense or abandon her again? Hemans pitches the question as intensely as a thriller writer and answers it as resonantly as a poet. Northeast 4-city author tour.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Did Kelithe's son Timothy accidentally drown in the Rio Minho as the women washed their clothes, or did Kelithe stand by and watch Timothy die so that she could leave behind her life and join her mother in America? Though the women of Standfast, Jamaica, shun her and demand that she be put to justice, Kelithe remains mute and numb with grief. She can only wait for her mother, Sonya, to return from New York and stand by to defend her. But mother and daughter are virtual strangers after 15 years apart, and, in the end, nothing can comfort the devastated Kelithe. The tone of the novel is one of deep sorrow and abiding pain, making the book a difficult one to read for long stretches at a time. But it is also alive with the sights, smells, and tastes of Jamaica, its rich history, and vibrant people. Like the works of Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid, Hemans's first novel is one of stark lyricism and shattering emotional honesty. For all large public libraries. Yvette W. Olson, City Univ. Lib., Bellevue, WA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The plot expands from one central event; the drowning death of 3 year old Timothy. Donna Hemans tells the story through a combination of the first person narrative of Kelithe, Timothy's teenage mother and the heroine of the novel and a third person, far from neutral, narrative. The narrator and Kelithe are on the same side. There is no pretence at sympathy for the characters Kelithe and the third person narrator disapprove of. But the novel does not suffer for this. The telling of the story comes across as events recounted by honest, though not impartial witnesses.
Betrayal is the central theme of the novel: the betrayal of Kelithe; the betrayal of the village of Standfast. It examines the dislocation of barrel children; their estrangement from the mothers who drop out of their lives for almost their entire childhood. The absence of the fathers of barrel children does not appear to be a matter of major concern to the writer (as is the case in "The Heart Does Not Bend" and "Me Dying Trial"). It is almost as though there is an assumption that fathers are absent in any event; that the father role is marginal, unimportant. Mothers, however, are held to account. Kelithe's mother is portrayed as self absorbed, having only the faintest regard for her responsibilities as a mother; the very sin of which the villagers accuse Kelithe.
I was very impressed by the lack of self consciousness which characterized Donna Heman's allusions to Jamaican folklore. I suspect that she deliberately resisted the urge to over explain symbolism which her Jamaican readers would immediately recognize, but which would probably mean nothing to non Jamaican readers. This is a direction in which I hope Caribbean literature will continue to progress. I do not mean to imply that our writers should write purely or even primarily for a home audience; I do believe, however, that much of Caribbean literature suffers from a lack of confidence which, though not unexpected in a literary culture as young as ours, makes some writers seem almost apologetic to their non Caribbean readers for taking them into unknown territory.
The fact that Donna Hemans is a formally trained writer shows. The plot is neatly drawn. There is a place for everything and everything is its place. All in all this is an impressive first novel. I am excited at the prospect of her second.
Enter Sonya, Kelithe's mother, who arrives back in Standfast for the wake. Kelithe denies her role in her son's drowning, while Sonya contemplates her daughter's role by shifting back and forth between blaming and not blaming her and listening to the natives' account of the drowning.
The uniqueness of this story comes in the form of Kelithe and Sonya's contemplation through the reader only. Never do they deny or blame each other verbally for the drowning, the love denied, the false promises or the betrayal. The river and river women are symbolic as they represent all that Standfast has endured since Sonya was a young girl in Standfast and before. This incident forces the town into action and produces emotions that the island of Jamaica has never seen by the residents of Standfast.
Written in a very lyrical tone, River Woman is a novel that will have you contemplating the ramifications of Sonya's actions fifteen years prior and her actions in the present. This is a sad account that leaves you wondering what exactly happened at the river that day and why.
Reviewed by Dawn R. Reeves, Apooo BookClub
Most recent customer reviews
The death of Timothy, Kelithe's son highlights the dilemma that every mother could...Read more