(published by Arsenal Pulp Press)
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Excerpt from Soucouyant (PDF) as it appeared in the National Post on September 13, 2008.
A soucouyant is an evil spirit in Caribbean folklore, and a symbol here of the distant and dimly remembered legacies that continue to haunt the Americas. This extraordinary first novel set in Ontario, in a house near the Scarborough Bluffs, focuses on a Canadian-born son who despairingly abandons his Caribbean-born mother suffering from dementia.
The son returns after two years to confront his mother but also a young woman who now mysteriously occupies the house. In his desire to atone for his past and live anew, he is compelled to imagine his mother's life before it all slips into darkness her arrival in Canada during the early sixties, her childhood in Trinidad during World War II, and her lurking secret that each have tried to forget.
Luminously poetic, Soucouyant marks the arrival of a major new literary talent in Canada.
(photo by Glen Lowry)
David Chariandy was born, raised, and educated in Toronto, although he lived for several years in Ottawa and now lives in Vancouver. The son of black and South Asian immigrants from Trinidad, Chariandy was raised in a working-class household and was the first of his family to attend a post-secondary institution. Chariandy completed a PhD in English literature at York University (Toronto), and now works as an assistant professor of Canadian and post-colonial literatures in the department of English at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. Much of Chariandy's criticism and creative work addresses the presence of working-class blacks and other visible minorities in North America, especially the rising "second-generation" of visible minorities immigrants, now very conspicuous in Canadian cities and suburbs. Chariandy has published reviews and essays in a variety of scholarly journals, and he is a co-founder of Commodore Books, the only active black press in Western Canada. His first novel, Soucouyant, was published by Arsenal Pulp press in 2007, and was nominated for several prizes and awards, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, the Commonwealth Best First Book Prize (for Canada and the Caribbean), the British Columbia Book prize (Fiction), the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award and was the winner of the ForeWord Book of the Year Award (Fiction). Recently, Callaloo, the premier international journal of black arts and writing (Johns Hopkins University Press), devoted a special section of a 30th anniversary issue to Chariandy's creative and critical work.
Excerpt from Soucouyant
She has become an old woman. She looks out from the doorway of her own home but seems puzzled by the scene, the bruised evening sky and the crab scurry of leaves on the shoreline below. These are the bluffs at the lakeside edge of Scarborough. This is the season named fall.
'You should step in,' she says, reaching for the security chain but finding it already dangling freely. Her eyes only then darting up to meet mine.
I crouch to unlace my shoes, avoiding the stool that has always been untrustworthy. I hang my coat on the peg tucked invisibly beside the fuse-box. She notices these gestures and slows with thought while leading me through this shipwreck of a home. The same drafts and groaning floors, the same wildlife calendar with the moose of September 1987, now two years out of date. In the kitchen, she sets a kettle on the element and turns the stove dial while saying 'on.' Then checks again to make sure.
The gas has been disconnected. I see this immediately and know that we will wait in vain for the flame to catch or the kettle to scratch to a boil. She is silent now and her eyes are downcast and away from me. There's a cavernous rhythm that seems to emanate from the floorboards and rafters, though this is only the lake having its say in the quiet of our brooding. This could continue for a long time. With the sun going its way and the shadows thickening around us. With this old woman, my mother, so entirely unwilling to admit that she has forgotten me. With both of us free from our past.
I do this.
I stand and unbuckle my belt. I unbutton and zip down and let my pants fall to my knees. Mother doesn't laugh at me advancing with wobbly duck steps. She doesn't panic when her hand is held and guided to the skin of a dark young man.
Here. Press your fingers against the walnut-shaped lump of bone at the side of my knee. Hold them there until my knee bends and some rogue tendon bunches against that lump and against your fingers before suddenly snapping over. With a click. My body's trick.
'He have strange bones,' she says. 'Quarrels deep in he flesh.'
'He grandmother too. You can't do nothing for bones. They like history. But you can boil zaboca leaves to remedy body ache. And planten leaves to slow bleeding. And there used to be something called scientific plant which could protect you against curses and bad magic...'
'Your son. Your youngest son. Remember, Mother?'
'Aloe on light burns. Everyone does remember that. But there was something else. Something wet and pithy they could give you when you burns was brutal. When you skin was gloving off...'
Soucouyant by David Chariandy. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
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