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Why fans of The Mother by Yvvette Edwards should read David Chariandy's Soucouyant

The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse discusses the parallels between two these novels.
Donna Bailey Nurse is a columnist for The Next Chapter. (Donna Nurse)

The Mother by British author Yvvette Edwards explores what it's like to come to terms with tragedy as well as the social dynamics that lead to crime. The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse saw a connection between Edwards' book and Soucouyant by David Chariandy.

This interview originally aired on Feb. 5, 2018.

Writing from a personal place

"Yvvette Edwards​' The Mother came from a personal place. Edwards was becoming obsessed with knife violence after her stepson was randomly assaulted and almost killed. The book tells the story of Marcia, who loses her son to knife violence. Her sister offers to attend the killer's trial with her and, over the course of the trial, she begins to consider the situations of all the other women involved in the case. She thinks about the mother of the accused and the girlfriend of the accused, who turns out to be pregnant. All of the women are Black and in considering all of their circumstances she comes to understand the social disparities that contributed to the murder of her son."

A brutal, flaming history

"The title of the book, Soucouyant, refers to a Trinidadian folktale about an old woman who, by night, turns into a ball of fire that flies around the village and sucks blood. The novel is about a Black woman woman named Adele who is suffering from early onset dementia. Her husband dies in a labour accident and both of her sons leave home soon after. Her two sons move away from home, overwhelmed by their mother's worsening condition and by the poverty, racism and the general lack of opportunity that defines their lives. The title fits with the novel because the Soucouyant folktale really represents a brutal, flaming history."

Difficulty telling the story

"There is so much Black history that we do not know partly because it's been ignored or erased or misrepresented, but partly because it's very painful for Black people to talk about what has happened. In any family, in my family for instance, your parents do not tell you those things that happened to them and their parents did not tell them. I believe that children do not tell their parents either.

"While David [Chariandy] was writing this book he wanted to draw upon some of the racism he experienced as a child growing up. Every time he went to write that down he just felt like he couldn't do it! He felt resistance, even in writing down his own Black history because he was afraid he would sound like he was whining or he was complaining. It was so interesting that somebody who was writing a novel about the difficulty of recording Black history was having so much trouble recording his own personal Black history."

A family built on hardship and love

"I think what both books are actually getting at is that there's just been so much violence, racism and just general hostility aimed at the Black family, and the Black family has been devastated by it. But, at the same time, both books are insisting, maintaining and confirming the great love that exists within the Black family. It's what has enabled us to survive."

Donna Bailey Nurse's comments have been edited and condensed.