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March 8, 2016

In Time of Need, by Shakirah Bourne

(IMG_20160305_154417Or, the alternate blog post title: “Barbados in Words Part I” )

In the future whenever I think about the challenges of fostering a thriving literary culture in a country like Canada (pop. 35 million—as opposed to the US’s 318 million) I’m going to think about the population of Barbados, which is 285,000. Literacy rates are sky-high in Barbados, but there aren’t many bookshops outside the capital city of Bridgetown, which made our vacation last week particularly unique in our experience—this trip was just five minutes away from being the only one we’ve ever taken that did not involve bookshop pilgrimages, and from which we’d come home with fewer books than we’d left with.

Except…that after finally making our way through airport security, five minutes past when our boarding time had started, a bookshop appeared before us at the Grantley Adams International Airport, like a vision. A terrible husband would have suggested that instead we get on the plane, but my husband knew better, and so into the shop we went, me in pursuit of a single thing: a literary book by a Barbadian writer who was a woman. And there is was, In Time of Need, by Shakirah Bourne, a self-published title I knew nothing about, and after all, time was a-wasting, so bought it and rushed for the plane. And I happily read In Time of Need all the way home.

It’s a collection of stories, many of which have already appeared in Caribbean literary journals (including Arts Etc Barbados, which is edited by Bajan-Canadian Robert Edison Sandiford), and which was awarded the Barbados Governor General’s Award for Literary Excellence last year. The opening story, “Getting Marry,” is from the perspective of a young boy confused by his parents’ decision to become married (“because I could have swear that them was married every since”) who decides that getting married is all about kissing and cake, and decides to get in on the action himself  with a young friend, only to witness a very adult moment from his hiding spot under the cake-lady’s table. The story is fixed in the boy’s point of view and  rich with the slang and colloquialism of his language, but then the voice we encounter in the next story is entirely different (from the pov of a young woman who’s just been sold into sex trade, though she doesn’t realize it), and still the next, “The Last Crustacean,” which is narrated by a crab—all of which is to say that this is a fast-paced eclectic collection, a veritable grab-bag of good stories.

I loved “Sheep Don’t Stand Still,” with its fabulous twist, about a woman who thought she was living How Stella Got Her Groove Back with a Bajan lover she’d met on the beach, but who finds out more than she bargained for when he dies suddenly and she goes back to Barbados for the funeral. “If Dogs Could Talk” is a terrific story, one-sided dialogue by a woman being interrogated by police after her cousin is accused of murder. “Four Angry Men” is about politics and takes place over an afternoon at a rum shop. These are stories about domestic violence, child abuse, and family ties. “I Didn’t Know” has the most wonderful opening paragraph: “I first met Betty when her son stole my car. As I watched her punch him in the face and force my car keys from his pocket, all the while begging God for forgiveness, I decided we should be friends.” Another stellar selection was “The Five Day Death of Mr. Mayers,” a story of happenstance and misunderstanding, one thing leading to another with hilarious results. And I loved “A Tear for Miss Cinty,” about a young girl who doesn’t appreciate her mother’s devotion to an elderly neighbour until her own mother is old herself, and left so much alone.

This was all certainly a side of Barbados I was not privy to from the vantage point of my all-inclusive deck chair, but the colours, the sun, the flowers, the food, the slang and rhythms had become familiar to me and immersion in Bourne’s literary worlds was the perfect way to make my vacation last a little bit longer. So nice to bring a little piece of that place home.

3 thoughts on “In Time of Need, by Shakirah Bourne”

  1. Tricia Dower says:

    What a great find!

  2. theresa says:

    And such a good thing to do — to find books of that place, in that place. A perfect way to take Barbados home with you?

  3. JC Sutcliffe says:

    How perfect! Hope you had a brilliant time.

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