Friday, May 21, 2021
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
I wasn't in the right frame of mind the first couple times I started this one, but I'm glad that I returned to it. Last year I read Hopkinson's excellent science fiction novel Midnight Robber. This is in a very different, equally nonrealist mode, but is equally good. I finished it last night, but the more I sat with it today, the more I liked it. I love the technique of using real historical figures as characters and filling in the gaps of the story with the fantastical. And this plays interestingly with structure. And it's all in service of a moving story.
It opens on a plantation in St Domingue, as Mer, a slave and doctor/healer and her paramour, another slave, help a third slave woman to deliver a child that I'd stillborn. A hundred years later in France,
Jeanne Duval, the real life mistress of Charles Baudelaire, participates in a sex magic ritual. Between the sorrow of the St. Domingue slaves and that ritual a goddess who is detached from time is born. The lives of the St Domingue characters, the Paris characters, and as the novel progresses an additional set of characters in ancient Egypt centering around the Catholic Saint Thais, weave together to form a narrative about striving from freedom from various societal forces that has an incredible impact.
The sheer amount of historical research and imagination that went into The Salt Roads would alone make it well worth reading, but Hopkinson's prose and the use of several first person narrators, including the young goddess Lasiren learning about her power and purpose, and a few strategically places third person passages make this something special. I'm still sorting through what Lasiren's relationship to the other gods is. It's the type of book that will clearly reward rereading down the road.
Highly Recommended/ Canon Worthy
Content warning: lots of sex and it deals with heavy themes.