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The Salt Roads Hardcover – November 12, 2003
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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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
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.
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For a long time I didn't like the fact that there isn't really a plot to this book, but by the end I decided it was a character study rather than a plot. Pick half a dozen women in history and follow the trajectories of their lives and show them smashed by the poor quality of their possibilities, and give women in modern times reason to be grateful that those days are long past us. In a weird way this is a feel-good novel; we can see how bad prior generations had it, and revel in the expanded opportunities for women of color today. I am a middle-aged white guy, so this was new territory for me, and I'm glad I took the journey. I certainly HOPE women of color have it better today than these women had it back then. I am inclined to try another book by his same author, hopefully something with a different story structure and story arc. I recommend this book to other white guys; it'll be an eye-opener, unless you read a lot of this kind of thing. Thanks, Nalo, for an unforgettable journey with interesting characters.
I was a little less taken with the part set in Egypt, but honestly, I believe that is a structural problem rather an issue of characterization. We don't get Thais story until about halfway through the book, and it's a jolt to suddenly go back in time and get another point of view character late in the book. I think the three strands and three narrators should have been woven together from the beginning.
A word on Ezili, who is not a goddess (Vodou is monotheistic), but is a lwa (similar to a saint). Another reviewer had some problems with her portrayal. I did not, and I am a student/practitioner of the faith. There was, in fact, some lwa who were "born" during the Haitian revolution, and I believe Ezili ze roug is one of these (sometimes called Ezili of the red eyes). Also, while it wasn't entirely convincing to me, the way Ezili was floating through space and time and occasionally entered the bodies of some of the characters was an interesting take on the possession state, and the way Vodouisants believe lwa can interact with this world through possession. So I didn't feel it was disrespectful at all, and in fact, it made me think even more about possession states and the way the lwa interact with the world.
One thing: I don't really think of this novel as fantasy. Magical realism perhaps? I'd compare it to books by another favorite author of mine, Jeannette Winterson. Her books are not considered fantasy (though many fantastic things happen, and in The Passion, for example, we have a main character with webbed feet), and yet have fantastic elements and a strong sense of historical detail. I find this book to be similar, and readers who do not usually read fantasy may still enjoy it.
Finally, as a woman of color and avid reader of speculative fiction, I do thirst to see more diversity in novels. So this book, with main characters who were of African descent, and many of whom were also queer, was such a breath of fresh air to me! All this and a (fairly) accurate representation of vodou too? Amazing! Thank you, Nalo Hopkinson!