book of the little axe. a historical epic.
-We does say it here in Trinidad that 'we is we'-Demas
That quote speaks to the held belief that we are all one, that even though we are different, when we come together and work together and care for each other-we is we.
Lauren Francis-Sharma has definitely tapped into the magic of writing family and the meaning of family. In book of the little axe, we are given a story of longing, belonging, searching for, and ultimately finding identity, place. A tale that recounts desires: for love, home, acceptance, respect, prosperity, and autonomy.
Across an ocean and a sea, Rosa comes of age on a lush island with a privileged life: her father is a Black landowner and skilled blacksmith; while her mother clings to the ideals of the colonizers: skin tone, beauty, facial features, and the place of a woman. book of the little axe presents connecting themes of identity and belonging where Rosa's father is seen as a Negro instead of Trinidadian, her mother is coloured because she is light complected, the station her father should hold because of his skin colour, who holds power to decide our identity or status and what identity do we claim as our own when the powers-that-be label us as something else.
Francis-Sharma uses prose that is rich in description, poetic at times and heady with meaning: from how Rosa blossoms under her father's tutelage and belief, her painful realization that her mother does not love her the way she wishes or how she loves her sister and brother, her refusal to accept the expectation of her gender and her strength in doing so; to the depictions of the changing landscape of Trinidad as it is taken from one set of colonizers by another and the cascading effect of these changes on the people of the island.
The characters contained within these pages are layered and so human. Each has been marked by their history and move to and fro in a world that insists on labelling them within the confines of background, family, gender, race, and social status. The complexities woven into their characteristics and experiences are engrossing, entertaining, and off-putting, if understandable.
Throughout this book, Francis-Sharma infuses the atmosphere with social issues that permeate colonized societies: evinced in Rosa's mother wanting her to have a straighter, thinner nose by pinning it with a clothespin; Rosa's burgeoning awareness of the status afforded boys and men because...they are men; the tenuous existence of free Blacks; the undesirability ascribed to her skin tone and aptitude for 'men's' work; being privy to her mother not loving her as she was and participating in upholding the prejudices that are touted by the colonialists.
This literary tale explores family, jealousy, hate, beauty, sacrifice, betrayal, love, and violence. The interconnectedness that weaves through each of our stories, bringing us together, apart, and back again. It is about losing all we've known and finding a place that through breathing its air, becomes our own, but it is never really, truly home.