'A superb, and superbly written, novel of childhood and childhood's end . . . Kempadoo writes in a rich Creole, filling her story with kaleidoscopic images of Guyana's coastal plains . . . Her story is also one of sexual awakening, and she explores these new feelings with a curiosity and freedom that are refreshing . . . Kempadoo's novel, like the Buxton Spice mango tree, reveals its secrets, private and political, only sparingly until the bitter end.'Patrick Markee, New York Times Book Review
'Oonya Kempadoo . . . has written a sexy, stirring, richly poetic semi-autobiographical first novel.'Gabriella Stern, Wall Street Journal
'As juicy and ripe as the fruits drooping from the Buxton Spice mango tree . . . Kempadoo's Caribbean argot is precise and fluid, enriching this debut with bawdiness, violence, and raucous humor.'Los Angeles Times
'There is a salt freshness to Kempadoo's writing, an immediacy which makes the reader catch breath for pleasure at the recognition of something exactly observed . . . She is a writer to watch and to enjoy, for her warmth, her fine intelligence and her striking use of language.'Paula Burnett, The Independent (London)*
Buxton Spice is a sensual novel set in Guyana in the 1970s. First-time novelist Oonya Kempadoo succeeds in revealing childhood secrets as the pages unveil childhood sexual discovery and fantasy in all of its naïveté. This juvenile play is set against the background political tensions in this racially mixed Caribbean community. Kempadoo writes this colorful tale from the perspective of a young girl growing up in Tamarind Grove. Lula is one of four girlfriends on the brink of puberty, who explore their curiosities among each other. While each of the girls begins her adventure similarly, the story is made in the way they each come to terms with their individual sexualities. The girls all play house and dress up like wife and husband.
Lula's role as husband is further explored when she embraces her masculine side, or what she calls her "man-self." This pretense gives Lula the freedom to explore herself further through hobbies, language, gesture, and sexual experience. Kempadoo also allows the character to experiment with masturbation, which presents a safe gender-neutral ground for pre-adolescent discovery. An orgasmic ending leaves the reader anxiously anticipating who of the four will be the first to "take a man."
The Buxton Spice mango tree symbolizes an omniscient entity that "swells with knowledge." To Lula, this tree knows all, including her father's political undertakings to challenge the current regime, which ultimately disrupts the family order. A curious Lula is anxious to share in the tree's knowledge, but by the book's close, her relationship with the mango tree has taken a much different term. Written in a Creole dialect, this "biomythography" (as Audre Lorde coined the term) steams with the smell of flesh, the taste of tropical fruits, and the vivid colors of the Caribbean culture. The youthful language spins with erotic passion and desire for grown-up pleasures. Rhythmic poetic-prose lexicons create a soothing ambiance for reading. Buxton Spice is a spicy novel for readers and should be next on your reading list. It's the childhood diary you never dared to write. Get ready to rediscover those fantasies!
Lula, the mixed-race heroine of Kempadoo's first novel, comes of age in a remote Caribbean village in the 1970s. Kempadoo describes Lula's innocent childhood in the same rich, sensuous prose she uses for the girl's growing awareness of her own sexuality, which emerges just as the government's abusive "People's Militia" arrives to occupy her village. Some of the young men join its ranks in search of a steady income and personal power, and Lula's life changes forever when her mother's arrest drives the family into political exile. Kempadoo displays a rare skill in describing the social and political dynamics of a community and the personal lives of her characters with beautifully observed detail, never allowing the reader to become bogged down. Her words seem to dance lightly upon the page. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Carolyn Ellis Gonzalez, Univ. of Texas at San Antonio Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
...[A] superb, and superbly written, novel of childhood and childhood's end....Kempadoo writes in a rich creole, filling her story with kaleidoscopic images of Guyana's coastal plains....Her story is also one of sexual awakening, and she explores these new feelings with a curiosity and freedom that are refreshing....Kempadoo's novel, like the Buxton Spice mango tree, reveals its secrets, private and political, only sparingly until the bitter end.
The New York Times Book Review
Kempadoo's Caribbean argot is precise and fluid, enriching this debut with bawdness, violence and raucous humor.
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 peopleone of whom, Uncle Joe, the children like to teaseand 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 familyto flee to England. A fine, strong, and original voice, but the story seems more like a preliminary sketch than a full-fledged novel.