Barbados is home to friendly people, great beaches and of course rum, but what you may not know is that the island has also produced several outstanding writers. From literary heavyweights like George Lamming, Kamau Brathwaite and Austin Clarke, to newer, emerging writers like Naomi Jackson and Karen Lord, these writers of distinction have explored similar themes of identity and culture. Here are our top recommended books for lovers of Barbados.
In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming (1953)
Category: Fiction, Novel, Bildungsroman
Themes: Identity, Nation-building, Loss of innocence
Best for: The Voracious Reader
The most-renowned novel by a Barbadian author, In the Castle of my Skin has won numerous awards including the Somerset Maugham Award and its author Lamming won a Guggenheim Fellowship following the work. It is viewed by Caribbean literary critics as an indelible part of the canon of West Indian Literature, the best of which was written between the 1950’s to the 1960’s leading up to independence. The book deftly weaves together mundane every-day activities of village life with shifting perspectives and unreliable narration to construct a tale of burgeoning consciousness, using a growing boy’s perspective to chart a country’s path from colony towards independence. It’s a dense read, told in the slow manner British novels used to be written in the 19th and early 20th century, with entire pages given to describing the shape of clouds and the sound of rain on a zinc roof. Yet the descriptions are incredibly poignant and beautiful, with deep insights inspired from the simplest occurrences.
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord (2010)
Category: Fiction, Novel
Themes: Fantasy, African folklore, Afrofuturism
Best for: The Fantasy Reader Enthusiast
Although much of popular Barbadian literature was written in the mid-twentieth century, rest assured that the exceptional writing has continued into the new millennium with exciting new faces, including several women writers. One of the more fascinating stories comes from Karen Lord whose Redemption in Indigo is a gripping tale inspired by African folklore.
Based on a Senegalese folk tale, this read offers another way of seeing the world using African mythology.
The Starside of Bird Hill – Naomi Jackson (2015)
Category: Fiction, Novel, Bildungsroman
Themes: Family, Culture, Identity
Best for: The Millennial/Gen Y reader
One of the more recent novels, this read gives an account of two daughters who spend the summer in Barbados. It is a coming of age novel wherein ultimately the sisters must decide whether they want to return to the world of the familiar in Brooklyn or whether they wish to continue to explore life in Barbados.
To Da-Duh in Memoriam by Paule Marshall (1967)
Category: Autobiographical, short story
Themes: Clash of cultures, family relationships, history vs modernity
Best for: The Time-pressed Speed Reader
A short story easy to consume in one sitting, this snappy read nevertheless succeeds in conjuring up feelings that resonate long after reading. The story depicts a young girl of Barbados heritage coming to the island and immediately holding a rivalry of cultures with her elderly Barbadian grandmother. It deftly handles many themes common to all of us: multigenerational families where grandparents struggle to understand the world of their grandchildren, the staid wisdom of age versus the reckless ambition of the youth, tradition versus modernity and rural agricultural life versus metropolitan city-life.
Heritage Barbados – A Pictorial Journey by Rasheed Boodhoo (2015)
Category: Non-Fiction, Photographic journal
Theme: Photography, photo collection
Best for: The Visualist
A collection of photos depicting Barbados daily life, this would make an excellent coffee table piece for easy perusing. All of the images are in black and white which imbues the photos with a timeless quality. The book’s contents are divided as follows: History, Culture, Market Place, Transport, Island Sons, Architecture, Place, Maritime and Animals. Boodhoo does an admirable job of fulfilling his vision which he says was “to create a window to the past for generations to come, so that while our recall may fade, every detail of those memories will live on through these photos.”
Ins & Outs of Barbados by Miller Publishing
Category: Magazine, annual publication
Theme: Barbados culture, lifestyle
Best for: Your coffee table
An annual publication, ‘Ins & Outs of Barbados’ by Miller Publishing is a great practical place to start learning about Barbados. It always includes a yearly calendar of events, restaurant guide, local tips and a section on what’s new on the island. Another useful publication by Miller Publishing is ‘Barbados in a Nutshell’ as it includes a helpful road map that highlights various landmarks and hotspots. Unsurprisingly visitors and expats alike find it a helpful guide when exploring the island.
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