Nalo Hopkinson has been challenging readers and changing the face of science fiction since her critically acclaimed first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring
. With her fourth book, The Salt Roads
, Hopkinson transcends all categories of genre and establishes herself fully as a literary master. The Salt Roads
is an epic tale of hardship and struggle that spans the lives of three black women in radically different historical circumstances: Mer, a slave woman living on a brutal plantation on Haiti; Jeanne Duval, a poor dancer who has a lifelong affair with poet Charles Baudelaire; and Meritet, a Nubian prostitute who becomes St. Mary of Egypt. The individual tales of the women are bound together by Ezili, a goddess who inhabits each of their minds in a quest for self-identity.
The Salt Roads contains strong elements of fantasy--a shapeshifter plays a prominent role in one of the storylines, and there are elements of magic throughout--but this is really a book about history and the inherited narratives of the past. Hopkinson's characters provide new perspectives on a wide range of these narratives, from biblical stories to the mythology surrounding Baudelaire and his poetry. As the three women struggle to escape lives of subjugation and humiliation, The Salt Roads undermines any notion of identity politics, its characters shifting and sliding through the boundaries of race, gender, sex, and social class, and in the process revealing the underlying instability of much of the foundations of Western culture. The Salt Roads is a multi-layered and poignant journey through our past, one that moves through suffering, loss, and longing but never loses hope. Hopkinson may offer a vision of torment and injustice, but she also presents a dream of liberty from the chains of history itself. --Peter Darbyshire
From Publishers Weekly
Whirling with witchcraft and sensuality, this latest novel by Hopkinson (Skin Folk; Midnight Robber) is a globe-spanning, time-traveling spiritual odyssey. When three Caribbean slave women, led by dignified doctress Mer, assemble to bury a stillborn baby on the island of Saint Domingue (just before it is renamed Haiti in 1804), Ezili, the Afro-Caribbean goddess of love and sex, is called up by their prayers and lamentations. Drawing from the deceased infant's "unused vitality," Ezili inhabits the bodies of a number of women who, despite their remoteness from each other in time and space, are bound to each other by salt-be it the salt of tears or the salt that baptized slaves into an alien religion. The goddess's most frequent vehicle is Jeanne Duval, a 19th-century mulatto French entertainer who has a long-running affair with bohemian poet Charles Baudelaire. There is also fourth-century Nubian prostitute Meritet, who leaves a house of ill repute to follow a horde of sailors, but finds religion and a call to sainthood. Meanwhile, the seed of revolution is planted in Saint Domingue as the slaves hatch a plan to bring down their white masters. Ezili yearns to break free from Jeanne's body to act elsewhere, but can do so only when Jeanne, now infected with syphilis, is deep in dreams. Fearing that she will disappear when death finally calls Jeanne, Ezili is drawn into the body of Mer at a cataclysmic moment and is just as quickly tossed back into other narratives. Though occasionally overwrought, the novel has a genuine vitality and generosity. Epic and frenetic, it traces the physical and spiritual ties that bind its characters to each other and to the earth.
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