Author: Karen Lord
Genre: Fantasy, Fable
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Publication date: July 6th 2010
Paperback: 200 pages
Karen Lord’s debut novel is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit. Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi— who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.
Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord’s world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale—but Paama’s adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought on my Kindle
Why did I read this book: A moment of truth (and shame): I don’t remember when or why I bought this book – I seem to recall vaguely a review talking about this book featuring a trickster character and since I love tricksters, it is safe to say this might have been the reason for buying it. Why did I read it now? I recently stumbled upon this book when organising my Kindle folders and it looked good and then I googled it only to learn that it was a World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2011) and it won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature this year. I needed no more incentive.
There is a point in Redemption in Indigo when the omniscient narrator says that “tales are meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute”. It is a meaningful line and one that sticks around longer than expected. It is one line among many others within this novel that provokes the reader and stimulates a certain level of engagement about the nature of storytelling and reader’s expectation. It is also an appropriately self-descriptive line because Redemption in Indigo is inspiring.
The story draws inspiration from a folk tale from Senegal about a heroine named Paama. Her story though is only but a starting point for Karen Lord to construct her own fantastical tale – one that includes djombi (spirits that are mainly personifications of ideas or forces such as change or patience), tricksters and a stick that can control the forces of chaos.
Paama is a wonderful cook and her husband Ansige is a glutton. You would think theirs is a match made in heaven but Ansige’s gluttony is accompanied by intolerance, arrogance and stupidity and finally after years of endurance, Paama leaves Ansige. Two years later, the man is finally moved to go in search of his wife, finding Paama living with her parents in her childhood home. Ansige’s penchant to get into silly situations and create a myriad of problems is equivalent only to Paama’s awesome efficiency with dealing with them. It is this mixture of endurance and brilliance that brings Paama to the attention of a djombi in search of someone to carry the Chaos Stick after it was seized from its previous owner – another djombi with indigo skin who misused its power but still insists he is its rightful owner and will do anything in his power to get it back.
What ensues is an extremely elaborate tale that deals with very human feelings against the backdrop of universal- sized problems in a sublime combination of the immediate (and short-lived) and the everlasting (and immortal). On the one hand there lies Paama and her family, their village, their prospects in life. There are dreams to be lived and love to be had as well as hurdles to be overcome. Paama is a brilliant heroine, resilient, brave, vulnerable and uncertain. This is someone who buries her tears and carries her burden and deals with her problems the best way she can.
On the other hand, the immortal djombi and the trickster watch, mingle and affect and are in turn, affected by all this humanity. The principal plot is that between the indigo djombi and Paama and their way of using (or not) the Chaos Stick. The djombi at first shows a disregard for human beings (reason of his downfall) that is equal to Paama’s esteem for them although her gaze turns out be perhaps too short-sighted which is, of course, only to be expected. It is ironic actually that this puny, short-lived human is given the stick by the personification of patience. There is an undeniable gravitas to this story and yet it is deceptively light due mostly to its narrative. As great as the story and the characters are, the omniscient narrator is what tips the scale and sets this story into awesome territory. The narrator tells this story in a way that reminisce oral traditions, that reminds of old times, that invites the reader to come closer and to listen carefully. It is a narrator that is utterly familiar and incredibly original at the same time and equal parts funny, opinionated and wise:
I told you from the very beginning that it was a story about choices – wise choices, foolish choices, small yet momentous choices – for with choices come change, and with change comes opportunity , and both change and opportunity are the very cutting edge of the power of chaos. And yet as the undying ones know and the humans too often forget, even chaos cannot overcome the power of choice.
Redemption in Indigo is a brilliant little gem of a novel, as close to perfect as storytelling can be. It is hard to believe that such an intricate tale could be told in just about 200 pages. It is even harder to believe that this is Karen Lord’s debut given how self-assured the narrative is. But it is extremely easy to see how this book has earned such well-deserved admiration, mine included.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From the opening pages:
A rival of mine once complained that my stories begin awkwardly and end untidily. I am willing to admit to many faults, but I will not burden my conscience with that one. All my tales are true, drawn from life, and a life story is not a tidy thing. It is a half-tamed horse that you seize on the run and ride with knees and teeth clenched, and then you regretfully slip off as gently and safely as you can, always wondering if you could have gone a few metres more.
Thus I seize this tale, starting with a hot afternoon in the town of Erria, a dusty side street near the financial quarter. But I will make one concession to tradition.
…Once upon a time—but whether a time that was, or a time that is, or a time that is to come, I may not tell—there was a man, a tracker by occupation, called Kwame. He had been born in a certain country in a certain year when history had reached that grey twilight in which fables of true love, the power of princes, and deeds of honour are told only to children. He regretted this oversight on the part of Fate, but he managed to curb his restless imagination and do the daily work that brought in the daily bread.
Today’s work will test his self-restraint.
Additional Thoughts: Karen Lord wrote a very interesting guest post for Scalzi’s The Big Idea. I highly recommend the read.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect
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