Fiction Oonya Kempadoo Buxton Spice

ISBN 13: 9780525945062

Buxton Spice

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9780525945062: Buxton Spice

Not since Jamaica Kincaid burst onto the scene with her classic novel Annie John has so original and gifted an author given voice to a young girls coming of age experience in the Caribbean. Oonya Kempadoo's Buxton Spice is a breath-taking glimpse into the inner life of Lula, who is growing up in a racially mixed family in a predominantly black village in Guyana in the 1970s. While Tamarind Grove is a magical place filled with vibrant characters like Aunt Ruth, the obeah voodoo lady; and a trio of prostitutes known as Bullet, Sugar Baby, and Rumshop Cockroach, a shadow falls over this Eden in which Lula playfully and candidly explores her awakening sexuality. The repressive regime of Guyana's dictator extends its poisonous tendrils into every area of life in Tamarind Grove, just like the branches of the Buxton Spice tree under whose umbrella the village's tensions fester. Lula's passage from innocence to experience is narrated in language that dances off the page, swaying with the lively, lilting cadences of Caribbean dialect. Already celebrated in the U.K. as one of the freshest, most exciting literary debuts in recent memory, Buxton Spice is a resonant, gem-like masterpiece.

"a brilliant achievement, precise, moving, poetic" ( The Independent, U.K.)

"Kempadoo is outstanding...her prose is raucously alive, each sentence fantastically rhythmic and right." -- Mail on Sunday (U.K.)

"Racy, humorous, enlivened by the rich Guyanese Creole in which the story is told." -- Literary Review (U.K.)

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Review:

Born in London, but raised in a flyspeck village in Guyana, Oonya Kempadoo has now preserved her youth in exquisite amber. Buxton Spice will no doubt be compared to the work of Jamaica Kincaid, and the analogy is actually an instructive one (beyond the fact that both authors are Caribbean women). Kempadoo too has found her own idiom for rendering the magical or mundane perceptions of childhood. Even so pedestrian an activity as rollerskating seems to be taking place for the first time:

We tottered on to the road and set off. My legs felt like matchsticks with huge weights on the ends. Looked ridiculous, but was rollerskates and we had them first. The sound of hard plastic on the gritty asphalt cleared the cool night air for us to come sailing through. Up and down the road. Past the fellars watching.
The passage above, with its low-key lyricism and artful omission, is fairly typical of Kempadoo's narrator, Lula. The presence of the fellars is typical, too. For Buxton Spice is very much a narrative of sexual awakening--its plot can almost be summarized in a single word, puberty. Lula gets a nominal course in sex ed by observing the three whores in her tiny village of Tamarind Grove. But at one point, she and three girlfriends pair off into husband-and-wife teams and play house--with sufficient realism to include a boudoir interlude. Their imaginary lovemaking, which features a battery as a kind of low-tech dildo, is a tour de force of eroticism and giggly absurdity.

Buxton Spice is not, however, a mere exercise in dirty dancing. It includes many fine bits of small-town portraiture, such as this quick take on a Portuguese store-owner: "Ricardo was pink and meticulous. When he was sober he had a slow solid way of moving and hardly spoke in the house. Slept in the shop. His clothes had to match." There are also oblique lessons in Guyana's politics and caste system. What's missing, perhaps, is a sense of narrative drive: Kempadoo puts her characters on their appointed paths but seldom manages much in the way of collision. Still, her book is an auspicious and utterly distinctive slice of small-town life. What's more, it has the ring of truth to it: this, we're persuaded, is Lula's song of experience, battery-powered as it may be. --James Marcus

About the Author:

Oonya Kempadoo, author of Tide Running, was born in Sussex, England of Guyanese parents and was raised in Guyana from the age of four. She studied art in Amsterdam and has lived in Trinidad, St. Lucia, Tobago, and now Grenada. She was named a Great Talent for the Twenty-First Century by the Orange Prize judges and is a winner of the Casa de las Americas Prize.

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