BUXTON SPICE by Oonya Kempadoo


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Lyrically written but underplotted debut, by a Britisher of Guyanese descent, in which a young woman’s growing sexuality parallels the deteriorating political situation in her native town. Kempadoo’s story, told in a sometimes challenging patois, is set in 1970s Guyana, run by autocrat Forbes Burnham and his henchmen. Lula, the young narrator, is filled with the burgeoning sensuality of incipient adolescence, but she is also aware of a larger and more menacing outside world that increasingly intrudes into Tamarind Grove. In chapters that are more episodic than narrative, Lula describes the local residents, her leftist parents (political activists opposed to Burnham), and the events that culminate in the family leaving Tamarind Grove. The townspeople, like the fruit of the large Buxton Spice mango tree that grows near Lula’s house, can be sweet, but they can also seem secretive and watchful. The town boasts four mad people—one of whom, Uncle Joe, the children like to tease—and three prostitutes, Bullet, Sugar Baby, and Rumshop Cockroach. The hookers” best customer is store-owner Ricardo DeAbro, of Portuguese descent like his wife, Emelda. Judy and Rachel DeAbro, their daughters, are Lula’s best friends. Together, the girls play games in which they pretend to be husbands and wives making love. While Lula dreams of being touched again by Iggy, who once felt her up in a deserted classroom, the political situation worsens. Burnham’s followers enroll local boys in a proto-fascist organization; police search Lula’s house and briefly arrest her mother. Childhood ends when Lula learns that Judy has been having a secret affair with an older man, and political tensions force her family to flee to England. A fine, strong, and original voice, but the story seems more like a preliminary sketch than a full-fledged novel.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-525-94506-7
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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