A Dystopian Toronto with Caribbean Flavour
Brown Girl in the Ring is Nalo Hopkinson's debut novel and introduces her imagination for the fantastical; blending seamlessly, African mythology and African inspired West Indian rituals. Set in a dystopian Toronto, where the city has been abandoned after economical and political collapse. Only the rich have escaped, fleeing to the suburbs and erecting barricades, leaving only the less fortunate and those who refused to leave behind all they had known.
The story revolves around Ti-Jeanne and her grandmother, Mami who runs a balmyard, using traditional medicine and religious rites to minister to the poor and forgotten. Ti-Jeanne, a new mother, has been having vivid waking dreams of spirits, found only in the stories she has grown up hearing from her grandmother. Haunted and afraid, Ti-Jeanne finally confides in her grandmother, who immediately moves to have Ti-Jeanne's knowledge of the rituals needed to understand and navigate her visions expanded.
There is so much happening in the book theme wise. We have social commentary: the rich have fled the city and left only the poor and disenfranchised, who are of course minorities. This is one aspect of privilege addressed in this story. Then, there are the cultural elements (specifically the West Indian and African) woven into this tale that give it a richness and otherworldliness that is truly captivating and gripping.
Then we have the characters, Ti-Jeanne: headstrong and sometimes resentful of her grandmother's teachings; Mami: hard and unyielding, set in her ways; Tony: former nurse turned drug addict and lackey to the Posse leader; Rudy posse leader and dabbler in the Vodou arts, who uses the powers granted to him through rituals to keep a stranglehold on what is left of Toronto to broker deals with politicians and whoever can afford to pay his price.
The prose is fast-paced and gripping. Hopkinson wastes no time in setting up the plot-line that drives the narrative forward, while introducing small details that keep the reader on the edge of their seat, trying to unravel the threads. A dark and intensely rich story, steeped in a history rich in beliefs and ritualistic customs.
Oh and we loved that revelation that tied everybody together.