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Curdella Forbes is a Jamaican writer. She has published four previous works of fiction: Songs of Silence, A Permanent Freedom, Ghosts, and a children's book, Flying with Icarus and Other Stories. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, and teaches at Howard University where she is a professor of Caribbean literature. She names among her literary influences the oral traditions of rural Jamaica, the fairy tales of her childhood and the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Beginning in rural Jamaica in the late 1950s with the island on the verge of independence from Britain, A Tall History of Sugar is an all-consuming story of love, history and self-determination whose author, Curdella Forbes, possesses a majestic ability to evoke the big from the small. Rich details of dialogue, of time and place, of inner states and the outer world, intermesh with a sweeping sense of history, with its pertinent opening line referencing the state of contemporary Britain: “Long ago, when teachers were sent from Britain to teach in the grammar schools of the West Indian colonies (it was Great Britain then, not Little England, as it is now, after Brexit and the fall of empire)…” At the heart of this mythic tale is Moshe, whose appearance and biblical discovery as a baby in a twist of sea grape trees shrouds him in mystery, and elicits much mockery and fear. “With his pale skin, one sky-blue eye and one dark-brown eye…people said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” After spending his first years in the company of the childless woman who found him, Moshe forms an unbreakable bond with fellow outsider Arrienne. At school, “with the large girl sitting silently beside him, he felt that he would die of happiness.” While both Arrienne and Moshe excel in their studies, artistically gifted Moshe leaves his politically-engaged soul mate and arrives in England during the hot, fractious summer of 1976, where he hopes to find his birth father. His search takes him from Brixton, borough with a “thousand faces”, to Bristol, where he encounters the incongruity of former slave-owners being celebrated as hero philanthropists, with the urge to be close to Arrienne remaining a constant draw through all his experiences. Complex, compelling and luminously lyrical, this tells a powerful tale I know I’ll return to over and over. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
'Captivating from the very first page' Jennifer Egan Discovered amidst a tangle of sea grape trees by the childless Rachel Fisher, baby Moshe's provenance is a thing of myth and mystery; his unusual appearance, with blueish, translucent skin and duo-toned hair, only serves to compound his mystique. Equally feared and ridiculed by peers as he grows up, he finds a surprising kindred soul in the striking and bold Arrienne Christie, but their complex relationship is fraught with obstacles that tear them apart as powerfully as they are drawn together. Beginning in the late 1950s, four years before Jamaica's independence from colonial rule, A Tall History of Sugar's epic love story sweeps between a rural Jamaica, scarred by the legacies of colonialism, and an England increasingly riven by race riots and class division.
A young girl separated from her family takes comfort in her care for an injured seagull; the new boy faces up to the class bully and his gang; a grieving mother takes in a lost girl , mute from a traumatic event in her past; an ordinary boy has a magical meeting in the pages of a book...Full of intriguing encounters, memorable characters and distinctive narrative voices, these stories are as colourful as their Caribbean setting. In language that soars like Icarus in full flight, Curdella Forbes establishes herself as a new children's writer of great poise and insight.
A sequence of beautifully crafted tales, Songs of Silence is a colourful patchwork of observations of life in rural Jamaica, as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Held together by the sure and simple voice of a child, this powerful collection is interspersed with the whisper of adult reflection, rendering the accounts at once sensuous and disarmingly honest. Inhabiting an elusive space between what is said and what is felt, what is conveyed and what is perceived, silence becomes a metaphor of rage and fear, of loneliness and contentment, confusion and clarification in these songs that explore social change and individual growth. Oscillating between Creole and Standard English, Songs of Silence is an accomplished piece of writing distinguished by an extraordinary sophistication of language and stylistic confidence. Relayed with a rare intimacy and detail, recollections are translated into a series of tales in which the narrator becomes a mouthpiece for a multiplicity of voices, each with their own story to tell. This novel comprises a series of eight linked episodes, all of which focus on different members of a rural community in Jamaica, seen through the eyes of a young girl growing up and remembered by the adult she became.