From the Publisher
"The Caribbean's tropical sights and smells permeate Smyth's moving debut novel, but all is not paradise…Smyth paints a vivid portrait of a naive young girl who learns some hard truths about herself and her family, but though Celia's story is not always happy, it's arresting and powerful, a shining testament to human resilience.“
—The Miami Herald
"Like Alice Walker, Smyth vividly and empathetically re-creates the gender and racial tensions in a culture’s past, making them newly relevant. Smyth is so attuned to the texture and flavor of Caribbean life, and she mimics the island patois so well.”
“[An] enchanting debut….Smyth’s deftly captured tropical landscape and superstitions….keep things interesting.”
"A remarkably assured debut, written in a controlled yet vibrant and beautiful prose that makes as much of the heart-stopping landscape of Trinidad as it does the cast of characters who inhabit the novel. A worthy relative of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea."
– Mslexia magazine
“Smyth writes entrancingly on tropical heat and light, indolence, vengeance and desire.”
– The Guardian
“Smyth is Irish-Trinidadian, and her writing is as lushly beautiful as the landscape she describes - it's the kind of novel that leaves your head filled with gorgeous pictures.”
– Times (London)
Certain novels are alive with color. Written in lush, lyrical language evocative of its tropical setting, Amanda Smyth's Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange is awash with bougainvillea, parakeets, blue crabs, manicous, rum, coconuts and obeah folk magic...Smyth's debut is an absorbing and morally complex read with a bittersweet twist at the end.
– Financial Times
“A captivating read.”
– Irish Times
“Compelling…it sings with life, texture, and verve.”
— Daily Mail
“[An] engaging debut…the prose sways along through an exotic landscape of swamp crabs, magic charms, breadfruit trees, Frangipani, Bay Rum and Calypso music.”
– Harper’s Bazaar UK
“Amanda Smyth's debut novel is an intricately told tale about the search for belonging and love…Smyth's beautifully vivid descriptions of lush plantations, glistening horizons and wide, open bays draw you into Celia's journey…Stunning and moving.”
“Smyth is a skilful ventriloquist; the local patois is energetically conjured, and the narrative pace is gripping. In painterly images, Smyth evocatively shows more than she tells...a vivid and compelling story.”
Smyth's immensely pleasurable novel…is well-trampled terrain, but Smyth, an Irish-Trinidadian now living in England, elevates her plot several notches above hothouse pulp through Celia's engaging first-person voice and the use of period details that compactly…delineate minor and major characters alike.
The New York Times
In Smyth's enchanting debut, set in Black Rock, Tobago, young protagonist Celia D'Abadie searches for traces of her absent lineage-the mother who died in childbirth and the white father reputed to live in England. Raised by her aunt Tassi in the shadow of fear cast by her lecherous uncle, Roman, Celia is given a prophetic glimpse into her future from Mrs. Jeremiah, the village seer. At 16, Celia flees after Roman rapes her, and en route to Trinidad, she meets William Shamiel. Under the guidance of William's family, Celia secures a job working as a maid for Dr. Emmanuel Rodriguez, his fragile English wife, Helen, and their two children. Celia moves into their dysfunctional home and balances relationships with two men vying for her affection. As Celia and her employer become closer, Helen's dramatic descent into madness becomes more apparent. While the story line-naïve boonies dweller moves to big city and learns about life and love-has been done a million times, Smyth's deftly captured tropical landscape and superstitions are enough of a tweak to keep things interesting. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Set in verdant Trinidad-Tabago as the islands emerge from colonialism, this debut by Irish-Trinidadian Smyth (published as Black Rock in the U.K.) presents the tragic story of a girl's exploitation and dashed hopes. Smyth's lyrical prose captures the fresh, young voice of teenaged Celia, whose observant eye registers both the beauty and the poverty of her surroundings. Celia is unlucky: her mother died when Celia was born, and her father, she has been told, was an errant seaman who has returned to Southampton, England. She is raised by her mother's sister Tassi, who eventually marries the abusive Roman. After Roman beats and rapes her, Celia flees to the capital city, Port of Spain, on the neighboring island, and secures employment as a maid for a prominent doctor and his familya move that proves to be her downfall. VERDICT This is a classic story of seduction and abandonment, but Celia's persona is so strong and sympathetic that the reader is convinced she will escape her fate. Eventually, she learns that her heritage is more complex than she imagined. A great beach read; highly recommended for all readers of popular fiction.Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
Read an Excerpt
One I knew about my parents from the things I was told. I had never seen a photograph of either of them because there weren’t any. But Aunt Tassi said that of course my mother was pretty and when I asked her how pretty she pointed at a pink hibiscus flower sticking out of a bush and said, “Pretty like that.” How did she wear her hair? She tied her hair in a knot and wrapped a cloth around her head, she told me one cool afternoon while we were walking into Black Rock village to look for cassava. And how tall was she? And what color exactly were her eyes? You say black but were they woody black or black like those African bees that once flew out of the rotten silk cotton tree or black like pitch that comes from the lake in Trinidad? Were they round or slanted, big or small? What did people think of her when they saw her? Would they turn their heads or pass her by?
Mostly when I asked these sorts of questions, my aunt carried on doing whatever she was doing as if I had not said anything at all. But it did not stop me from asking about my mother or thinking about my mother and wondering what she was like. I knew that she had worked in a barbershop called Mona’s in Bacolet and she met my father in this same salon. My father was passing through the islands on his way home to England from panning gold in British Guiana. And I knew that she probably didn’t cut hair like his too often. How could she, I told Aunt Tassi, if he was a white man. Whenever I said this was a romantic way to meet, my aunt said I shouldn’t get caught in romance; she usually said this when Roman Bartholomew, her husband, was in earshot.
She said my mother died after a long and difficult labor. Did she see me, I asked when I was five years old. I could not bear the idea of my mother never having seen me. Yes, Aunt Tassi said. Before she died she saw your tiny face and it made her laugh and cry at the same time because for the first time in her life she was happy. Then my aunt shook her head as if thinking about my mother made her sad, and I felt bad for asking. I was lying on my mother’s stomach covered in her slimy juices when she took her last breath. And we were in a room without windows and it was very hot, so they moved her to another room with a window and they opened it wide so her soul could fly out into the sky. It was night and someone lit a flambeau in the yard to help her find her way.
Aunt Tassi sent a letter to my father in Southampton, England, but my father did not reply and they buried my mother in St. George’s graveyard and they put a little cross of wood because they did not have money for a stone. When I asked my aunt if I had killed my mother she said of course not and how could I think so. When one soul flies in, another flies out. I was unlucky.
It just so happened that Aunt Tassi had a postcard from Southampton, sent to her by Father Carmichael. It was a photograph of a port and a lot of people waving at passengers I couldn’t quite make out. I could see the bow of a large boat but not the passengers. southampton was written in white capital letters along the bottom. Sometimes I took this postcard from behind Aunt Tassi’s dresser where it was held in place with a hair clip and I stared at the waving English people and I wondered if my father could be one of them or at least look like one of them.
... Everyone said I was lucky to have Aunt Tassi. My cousins, Vera and Violet, were three years younger than me. They looked the same and they spoke the same and they both laughed in the same way. Aunt Tassi often said how beautiful they were, but I never thought so. Their skin, yes. Their skin was dark and shiny and smooth like a melongen. But their faces were ordinary and identical, and their bodies were straight and thin, like stick men you draw when you don’t know how to draw somebody. Like me, they didn’t have a father. The moment Vera and Violet were born, their father ran away with a girl from Barbados and no one ever saw or heard from him again. I was very young so I don’t remember too much about this. But I remember that Aunt Tassi was often too sad to leave the house.
Then one afternoon, she took a walk into Buccoo, and along the Buccoo road came Roman Bartholomew, a short, skinny man whom the villagers called Allah, because he thought he was God. He said, Hello, Tassi D’Abadie, and took off his hat. My aunt nodded, politely. She knew of Roman Bartholomew but had never spoken to him before. How would you like to go to a dance in Carnbee village tonight? Yes, she said, why not. I have nothing else to do. Next thing, they were an item, and Roman got a job in Campbell’s Hardware Store, right there in Black Rock.
Every day on her way to Robinson Crusoe Hotel, where she cleaned rooms, Aunt Tassi would pass the blue wooden building and peer into the darkness and look for Roman. Sometimes he waved or he came out front and stepped into the bright white light. It was like that sometimes: a glaring light blasting everything as the sun climbed high above the island. And he might say, Tassi, you have anything? And she’d say, Yes, I brought you juice or a mango, or sugar cake or whatever she carried, or she might say, No, nothing you didn’t get already, and then she would turn and be on her way. Sometimes Roman asked her for money. “Tassi, you have a little change?” And she would dig inside the pocket of her blue-and-white-checkered apron and pull out a coin and give it to him. I didn’t like the way Roman looked at me—out of the corner of his slitty eyes—so I always hung back near the old pipe stand. “Celia so shy!” he’d say. “Like a little bird,” and he’d reach out his hand and whistle, as if I really was a bird.
People said it was like going from the frying pan into the fire. But Aunt Tassi felt so lucky to have found a man willing to put up with another man’s children and her dead sister’s child (me) that she latched on to him like a raft in the sea. He didn’t have two cents to rub together, and she didn’t care. As Aunt Sula once said, you see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear. Later that year, Roman, realizing he was on to a good thing, made Aunt Tassi “an honest woman.”
Mrs. Maingot used to say that Roman Bartholomew could crawl under a snake’s belly on stilts. Even then, I knew this was true. It was clear from the beginning that he couldn’t be trusted. Like that time we came from church and the house was close to burning down because he had fallen asleep with a cigarette. There was an orange line creeping along the floor at the exact moment we walked through the door. Aunt Tassi threw up her hands and shouted his name so loud, RO–MAN! I thought the whole village would hear. I ran for a bucket of water and Vera and Violet both started to scream so I told them to shut up and fetch more water but they were fixed to the ground like two posts. After the fire was gone and there were black streaks on the floor and on the wall, Roman made as if to cry. Suddenly Aunt Tassi was putting her arms around him and telling him not to fret. And then she opened up her purse and gave him a dollar and off he went to Jimmy’s bar at the end of the road to quieten down and make himself feel better, because these things happen, Aunt Tassi said. Sometimes it’s the devil who’s to blame.
But Roman was the devil. Since I was eight years old, he came around me, restless and pacing like a hungry dog. If I was doing my homework, he came into my room. He flicked the ribbons in my hair or he bent down and blew on the top of my head. Once he ran his fingertip down the back of my neck. I sat still as though I was made of stone. More often than not he stood in my doorway and stared and I pretended he wasn’t there. It was easier to allow him to do this than not to do this and “cause trouble,” as he put it, because no one would take any notice. You are nothing, he said one day, when I threatened to tell my aunt. You have nobody but Tassi, and Tassi need me like a plant need water, so who you think she will believe? I already tell her how you lie.
Tears streamed down my face. I said, “I will go to England and find my father. You can all go to hell!” Then I ran from the house and cut through the back where sunlight could not reach and made my way through the bush to the river. There were large stones there and they were warm and gray, especially on the other side. A big log that was once the trunk of a mahogany tree stretched from one side of the river to the other and I started to cross it. The water was not deep but there was a whirlpool and I slipped and fell. My arms went up and I became stiff and straight like a pencil and the water pulled me down and spun me around and I was sure that I would die. Everything was cloudy and blurred and the bottom of the river must have been stirred up because I could see gritty bits of it. I could feel it in my eyes and up my nose. Two boys fishing saw me fall. They ran to the bank and braced themselves between the rocks and hauled me out by my hair which they said afterward was like thick seaweed. When Aunt Tassi heard what had happened, she said she would never let me go to the river by myself and what in God’s name was I doing there.
Our wooden house stood up on stilts. There were two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a living room, and a tiny spare room that you could just about fit a bed in. I shared one room with my cousins. Around my bed was an invisible line which, when crossed, meant something very bad would happen to them. It was the same invisible line that ran around my books, my clothes, my shampoo, and my lavender toilet water. If Vera or Violet took something without first asking permission, I frightened them with stories of jumbies and La Diablesse and the terrible Soucouyant who would come and steal their skin in the night. I told them about the douens, the spirits with no faces and small feet turned backward, who would learn their names and call them away into the forest. Any mention of douens and my cousins would shiver with fear.