Nalo Hopkinson

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"The New Moon's Arms"

(Reviewed by Amanda Richards NOV 7, 2004)

“I thought it would be like riding a bicycle”

The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

This is a fascinating book that you’ll want to read in one sitting. A combination of fantasy, mystery, drama, humor and romance, the author draws you in from the first chapter, as she recounts an embarrassing incident at a funeral.  After all, who can stop reading a book that includes in its opening paragraphs a line like “Mrs. Winter had given up the attempt to discreetly pull her bloomers back up”?

Bloomers aside, by the time I reached page two, I realized from the language that not only was the setting in the Caribbean, but that most of the colloquial expressions were Guyanese.  A background check revealed that Ms. Hopkinson was born in Jamaica, but that her famous father was a Guyanese poet, playwright and actor, and that she had once lived in Guyana with her family.  A-ha! Case closed!

Set on the fictional islands of Dolorosse, Cayaba and Blessée to a lesser extent, the main character is a reluctant grandmother (in her early fifties) who has a hissy fit when her daughter calls her a matriarch or reveals any hints about her advancing age. Given the name “Chastity” at birth, she insists on being called “Calamity,” and as a child had the ability to find lost things. 

Several things happen that bring about major changes in her life –

  1. She has a close encounter of the strange kind with a girl of the sea (As in "Chicken of the Sea")
  2. Her mother disappears without a trace when she is a teenager
  3. She gets pregnant at fifteen after an experimental encounter with a close friend
  4. Her father passes away
  5. Menopause
  6. The return of the ability to find lost things.

Not one to let these things hold her back, Calamity continues to live her carefree dysfunctional life, barely making ends meet, when into her life come not one, but two younger men, and then to complicate matters further, in washes a young boy with the tide.

There’s much more to tell in this fast-paced book, but I’ll let you discover the twists and turns on your own.  Suffice to say, it involves colorful language, myths and legends, the supernatural, alternative lifestyles, relationships, politics, extinct mammals and yes, the droopy bloomers.

One of the best books I’ve read in a while.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The New Moon's Arms at the Hachette Books

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"The Salt Roads"

(Reviewed by Josh Aterovis NOV 7, 2004)

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

Mer, a healer and midwife, is an African slave on a sugar plantation on Saint Domingue (renamed Haiti in 1804). Jeanne Duval is an Afro-French dancer and courtesan living in Paris—and the mistress of 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire. Meritet is a Greek-Nubian prostitute in fourth-century Egypt, better known to the world as Saint Mary. Something connects these three women across the span of time—something larger than any of these women could ever suspect.

When three Caribbean slave women, led by Mer, come together to bury one of the women's stillborn son, their powerful grief and prayers call the attention of Ezili, an African-Caribbean goddess. Using the unused life force of the dead child, Ezili moves back and forth across time, possessing and working her will through various bodies.

Jeanne is one of the goddess' most frequent vehicles, mainly because Ezili finds herself inexplicably tethered to the beautiful French dancer. She is free to inhabit other bodies only when Jeanne, slowly dying of syphilis, is in a deep dream state. Ezili plants the seeds of revolution in Saint Domingue through Mer, and sends Meritet on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

What all these women have in common is salt—in all its various forms. Whether the salt of tears, the salt of the ocean, or the salt of sweat, the goddess travels the Salt Roads to accomplish her goal. The question is "What is her goal?" Not even Ezili fully understands at first, but as she grows more powerful, and comes to know the many aspects of herself, all is revealed—both to her and the reader.

Author Nalo Hopkinson beautifully weaves her stories together in a broken narrative, jumping back and forth through time and between characters. Some readers may have a little difficulty finding the rhythm of her storytelling, but the reward for their perseverance is great. Hopkinson writes in a flowing, sensual, sometimes poetic, style, but her rich use of history keeps the book grounded in realism. While the stories of the three women are often heartbreaking, Hopkinson skillfully breaks up the sometimes heavy narrative with light touches of humor sprinkled throughout—the way a good chef uses salt.

Ultimately uplifting and filled with hope, The Salt Roads is a beautiful book—one that stays with you long after you close the cover. The Salt Roads is the winner of the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Novel.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Salt Roads at Hachette Books



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

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About the Author:

Nalo HopkinsonNalo Hopkinson was born and spent the first sixteen years of her life in the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana). She is the daughter of Slade Hopkinson, a Guyanese poet, playwright and actor. Her family moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1977.

She began writing fiction in 1993, by joining a writing group and then two years later attended the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop at Michigan State University. After which she submitted a manuscript to the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest -- and won.

Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring recieved excellent review and won the 1999 Locus Award for best firs novel as well as the 1998 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best New Writer. Midnight Robber was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree, Jr., Nebular, Hugo and Sunburst Awards. Her short story collection, Skin Folk won both a 2002 Fantasy Award and a Sunburst Award. The Salt Roads was a finalist for the 2004 Nebula Awards.

Hopkinson lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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