by Pauline Melville

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this startling debut collection, which won England's prestigious Guardian Prize, hard-luck Londoners and Caribs find themselves and their environs in a state of metamorphosis. In ``The Conversion of Millicent Vernon,'' a West Indian teenager abandons Christianity after an per web obeah man recommends tree worship to save her rotting teeth; the protagonist of ``The Truth Is in the Clothes'' discovers that the back wall of her London flat opens up on her native Jamaica; ``The Girl with the Celestial Limb'' concerns a shop girl whose leg turns into a black hole that threatens to swallow her. The prominence of the supernatural notwithstanding, these 12 stories are firmly rooted in reality. From an incarcerated Jamaican mother's dulled anguish to a poor woman's desperate efforts to befriend a doctor's wife, Melville depicts people marginalized by the color of their skin or by the emptiness of their pocketbooks in a way that transcends whimsy. The pained social consciousness behind these stories is leavened by a sharp wit, as in ``Tuxedo,'' a tale about a would-be safecracker who talks to his maker ``Jamaica-style'' because ``it makes God feel more like one of the boys.'' Shaman-like, Melville transforms the mundane yet never loses sight of social inequities or of the pleasures of laughter. (Sept.)
Library Journal
These stories range in setting from the Caribbean and the Guyanese Coast to the streets of London. Dreaming of return to family in Jamaica, the narrator of ``Eat Labba and Drink Greek Water'' observes, ``Whichever side of the Atlantic we are on, the dream is always on the other side.'' England is ``A Disguised Land'' where nothing is what it seems; in Jamaica, ``Everything is more visible . . . the gunmen, the politics, the sturdy, outspoken people.'' In the comic tale of Shakespeare McNab, politics mingle with folktale and legend. ``The Conversion of Millicent Vernon'' concerns the irony of superstition and its juxtaposition with religion. Of the three stories that verge on fantasy, ``You Left the Door Open'' is especially dark, menacing, and convincing. By turns vivid and elusive, fantastic and real, this collection evokes the transformative voice of a true storyteller.--Mary Soete, San Diego P.L.

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