This was a really beautiful and intense set of short stories that all focus on a ten year period in the life of Kara Davis, a young girl born in Canada with Jamaican heritage. In many ways it’s a series of coming of age stories, that all run on from each other, but before when you would typically think of ‘coming of age’ taking place. Alongside the experience of belonging to two cultures, of particular importance is the spoken and unspoken relationship between generations of women in this novel.
Title: Frying Plantain
Author: Zalika Reid-Benta
Publisher: Dialogue Books, Little, Brown Book Group
Publication Date: Originally published June 2019
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher
Rating: 4.5 stars (rounded up to 5)
Kara Davis a child of two cultures. She is a Canadian national, and of Black Jamaican heritage. In the first story, we hear of one of her visits to Jamaica. It sets the scene for her feeling out of place – but rather than feeling out of place in Toronto, she’s out of place in Hanover. She’s seen as soft, un-Jamaican. Her friends have to explain words to her and speak in a Patois that is different to how Kara speaks. But when she’s back at school, Kara uses and exaggerates the stories of her time there to shock and awe the white kids at school, but it doesn’t impress her Black friends, who still think she thinks she’s too good for them. In fact, they later show a cruel and nasty rejection of Kara.
But at no point does Kara clearly think that she doesn’t fit in, or fear that she doesn’t. A lot of that feeling is implied by her experiences but not explicitly stated, which is quite powerful in itself. It’s quite clear that her experience of being a Black teenager in Toronto is different to that of her mother and her Nana. Her mother is writing a doctoral thesis, and working, and trying to keep a roof over their heads. She reacts aggressively and with rage to micro (and macro) racism, whilst Kara would rather keep her head down and quietly get on with things.
The relationship between Kara and her mother (Eloise), and between Eloise and her own mother is also really interesting. Eloise had Kara had a very young age, so puts a huge amount of discipline and pressure on Kara not to make the same mistakes. She has tight control over everything Kara does and Kara almost seems to fear her and her mother’s rages. She rarely disobeys and only as she gets older learns how to keep secrets for herself.
But Kara also sees the relationship between her mum and her Nana. They argue and shout and scream at each other. And she is desperate to shrink away from that and avoid confrontation. Both her mum and her Nana are proud women, who are afraid to ask for what they need from each other. But they also depend on each other and are, perhaps, ultimately lonely without the other. So much of these stories is about going too far – from protection to pranks – and how much harm too much of one thing can do.
This set of short stories is a really beautiful blend of culture and family, neither of which should be separated from the other. So much of it is just there – it’s treated as is, rather than explicitly – and that’s really powerful writing to get across so much meaning and understanding.
At the end of this novel, the author says that she is currently working on a Jamaican-inspired fantasy and I really hope that this comes together soon! If it’s as well-written – and considerately and reflectively written – I would love to read it!
I’ve rated this as 4.5 stars, but I’m rounding it up to 5, rather than down.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.