Books·Canadian

Frying Plantain

Frying Plantain is a book by Zalika Reid-Benta.

Zalika Reid-Benta

Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle — of her Canadian nationality and her desire to be a "true" Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother's rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too "faas" or too "quiet" or too "bold" or too "soft." Set in "Little Jamaica," Toronto's Eglinton West neighbourhood, Kara moves from girlhood to the threshold of adulthood, from elementary school to high school graduation, in these twelve interconnected stories. We see her on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig's head in her great aunt's freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother's house, trying to cope with the ongoing battles between her unyielding grandparents.

A rich and unforgettable portrait of growing up between worlds, Frying Plantain shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker. In her brilliantly incisive debut, Zalika Reid-Benta artfully depicts the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominately white society. (From House of Anansi Press)

From the book

On my first visit to Jamaica I saw a pig's severed head. My grandmother's sister Auntie had asked me to grab two bottles of Ting from the icebox and when I walked into the kitchen and pulled up the icebox lid there it was, its blood splattered and frozen thick on the bottles beneath it, its brown tongue lolling out from between its clenched teeth, the tip making a small dip in the ice water.My cousins were in the next room so I clamped my palm over my mouth to keep from screaming. They were all my age or younger, and during the five days I'd already been in Hanover they'd all spoken easily about the chickens they strangled for soup and they'd idly thrown stones at alligators for sport, side-eyeing me when I was too afraid to join in. I wanted to avoid a repeat of those looks, so I bit down on my finger to push the scream back down my throat.


From Flying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta ©2019. Published by House of Anansi Press.

How Zalika Reid-Benta wrote Flying Plantain

"When I first started writing, I was all about theme and wanting to talk about intergenerational cycles. My mentor at the time was George Elliot Clarke and he told me to focus on the writing, to trust that the themes will come out on their own. If you're constantly thinking about the theme, he said, then you're writing an essay, not fiction. 

"That's so true because early drafts of Frying Plantain felt so essayistic. I ended up not thinking about theme and thinking more about character and about dialogue. I usually start with dialogue — it's my most favourite thing to write. 

"For the short story Snow Day in the book, I wasn't thinking about friendships, the danger of being a girl or anything like that. What I wanted to do was write a conversation about two black girls talking about how they can't go in the snow because it would ruin their hair. I wanted that on the page because I hadn't read anything like that when I was growing up. From that dialogue came everything else.

"These days I think more about interactions between people as opposed to theme. The theme usually comes at the end — and I don't even realize the theme is until I'm done."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

More about Frying Plantain

TNC columnist Candy Palmater talks to Shelagh Rogers about three debut books 10:45

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.