AMERICAS AND THE CARIBBEAN

A change is as good as rest, or so they say. So I decided to read a short story collection, and make a rare foray into the short form for the blog. I heard about this collection in a little radio snippet, and ordered a secondhand copy (the book sadly seems to be out of print, but used copies are readily available online). Christine Craig made her name as a Jamaican poet and children’s writer, and Mint Tea and Other Stories is her first (and I think only) short story collection for adults.

This collection of 15 stories, published in 1993, explores social pressures, the injustices of poverty and sexual politics. The stories are mainly set in Jamaica, and they are written in a well-handled mixture of standard British English and Jamaican Patois, and often focus on female disillusionment and the interior feelings of women. Mainly they are realist tales, with the exception of the eerily surreal Roots. Several stories benefit from a lushly described sense of place, and beautifully realised evocative passages:

But recently, she had found herself sitting somewhere, perhaps with some mending on her lap, caught up in vivid memories of the past. The early morning smell of the mountains mixed with the light and birds singing. They came over her in a wave, so fresh that she would tilt her face up absorbing the smell of moist leaves and opening flowers and then the sound of Mother in the kitchen grinding coffee beans and she would wait for that smell to form itself, to come slipping out to make the signal that woke up the rest of the house.

I didn’t love all the stories. Some were, frankly, a bit confusing, and left me wondering wtf just happened. However, I really enjoyed several, particularly The Cousin. In this short story, a quintessentially uptight, ageing, visiting English academic gradually unfurls and thaws in the Caribbean surroundings as he forges an unexpected connection with a local woman, the open and friendly Carmen – but is too set in his ways to know how to display his feelings and forge any true intimacy. Perhaps I could recognize that English stiffness and awkwardness, which genuinely does remain quite a widespread impairment!

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