Books, Caribbean Culture

Read It!: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

This is a spoiler-free book review.

I don’t know Barbados quite the way that I should.

I was born and raised in Canada, so why would this bother me?

Both of my parents are from the Caribbean. I’m half Bajan. I’ve spent my life in North America, and yet, I’ve only actually been there a handful of times.

Over the past few years, I’ve caught glimpses of Barbados via social media. The images that people share are gorgeous. Yet something about looking at tourists’ photos leaves me with a deep sense of longing. There’s a real life beyond those fabulous filters.

People love to refer to countries like as Barbados as “paradise”.  But just as it can be dangerous to judge a book by its cover, so it is unwise to judge a country by its reputation. Too often, people take locations that they think of as vacation destinations for granted. On one hand, I realize their perspective comes naturally. I imagine it’s easy to come to certain conclusions if the only time you visit a place is when you’re there to relax.

On the other, I’ve been concerned. Visitors risk overlooking the fact that real people are born, live out their lives, and even die in places that they tag as “travel goals”. The fact remains that in these desired destinations, real people face real struggles. 

Never was this more apparent in How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House—a debut novel that is set in the country of my father’s birth.

I’ve seen One-Armed Sister compared to White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. Dare I say that this comparison is well-deserved? Both are vividly-written debut novels that take their readers for a ride. Both are written by Black women, and are bound to be remembered by all who read them—if not in detail, then certainly in terms of their emotional impact. One-Armed Sister carries readers on a journey via an engrossing story that involves multiple characters whose lives intersect, overlap, and at times painfully collide.

The world of One-Armed Sister is full of high-stakes human interactions. In that sense, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is, undeniably, a character-driven thriller. At its core is an abusive relationship between a couple: Adan and Lala.

This novel is, indeed, compelling—almost beyond reason. Reading it is often an intense experience. I have no doubt that most readers will be transfixed by its characters. You will care for their welfare. You will likely wonder if it makes any sense to be this concerned about people who only exist in print—then remind yourself that when you come across truly good fiction, this is normal.

Ms. Jones ability to wield words is enchanting. In her characters’ parlance I could feel the echoes of my relatives. Reader Beware: Due to the nature of her story, her carefully crafted sentences are often full of foreboding. On nearly every page, I found myself feeling a sense of curiosity mingled with dread over what new fate would befall a beloved character.  Yet it was all worth it.

Overall One-Armed Sister is a great, engrossing read. And as authors go, I definitely look forward to finding out what’s next for Ms. Cherie Jones.

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