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Near the Hope, by Jennifer Davis Carey

March 6, 2014

Near the Hope, by Jennifer Davis Carey.  Blue Mongoose Publishing (2013), Paperback, 250 pages

 FAVORITE

 GLOBAL WOMEN OF COLOR

 A beautifully written novel about a young woman leaving Barbados and coming to Brooklyn in the early 1900s, a true story recreated by her granddaughter.

 On the cover of Near the Hope is a photograph of Dellie Standard, attractive, hopeful but hesitant before the camera.  She is the woman at the center on this novel. Her story is simple, much like that of other young women who came to this country.  What sets it apart is the grace and wisdom with which her granddaughter tells her story.

The book opens on Barbados in the tiny settlement of Taborvilla, located literally “near the Hope.”  Dellie’s mother dies after making her daughters promise to leave their lush, impoverished island.   She had explained why they must go. “Dellie, this place is a part of what I am, of who I am.  I know how to live poor, M’ma knows how to live poor.  We have learned how to manage the needs of the Big House.  To hold a part of us away so it doesn’t touch us. But it will end here.”

Dellie wants to stay until she encounters the old master of the Big House and understands her mother’s insistence.  Following her newly married sister, Dellie goes to Brooklyn and becomes part of the Bajun, or Barbados, community there.  The love of family and friends sustains her through problems finding work and starting a new life.  Pain and major tragedy ensue, but at the heart of the novel is a poignant love story.  The ending displays the particular “magical realism” of the Caribbean.

Jennifer Davis Carey has degrees from Harvard and has worked in education and public service.  Her grandmother lived with her family when she was growing up and she listened to her stories as well as conducting extensive research for the book.  This is her first novel, but her website suggests that she plans to continue writing family sagas.  She has also posted there photographs from Barbados and Brooklyn from the era of her book alongside quotations from it.  The title of the novel comes from the letters which Dellie sent back to Barbados addressed to “Taborvilla, Near the Hope.”  For Carey the address is also a metaphor for the women who migrated hoping for better lives. 

One unusual element of the novel is the attention that the author gives to the intolerance that blacks exhibit toward each other.  Dellie’s father dislikes her boyfriend because, like many Barbados blacks. he is also descended from workers from India.  When Dellie gets to Brooklyn, she discovers that blacks from Barbados regard African Americans as “foreigners” and vice versa.  When she goes out with a man from the American South who is a railroad porter, neither his friends nor her family approve.

I find it difficult to say why I found this novel so delightful.  Carey writes in a simple, gentle style.  She notes the influence of Paule Marshall, another American author with roots in Barbados and a longtime favorite of mine.  Like Marshall, Carey catches the contradictions of life in phrases like “beautiful, ugly.”  Carey is especially good at descriptive writing.  She writes about the Bajan community getting ready for a party.

With the pots and pans put away, the kitchen and the front room became the salon where domestics and needle workers of the tiny West Indian community transformed themselves into the women they were.  Hair was brushed smooth, curled with the hot iron and pinned up.  The soft rustle of tissue paper rippled through the room as lace collars and cuffs were unfolded for pressing.  Shoes were buffed to a shine and corsets tied to a breathtaking firmness.

At times Carey creates the context for events such as Dellie’s departure by describing what is happening on the periphery.

The wharf and all the area by the Careenage and inner habor were teeming with people.  Stevedores, shirtless, loaded last minute cargo and provisions.  Families paid the island’s two photographers for a last pose in front of Lord Nelson’s statue before separating forever. Up-country women presented their wares, one basket in their hands, another poised confidently on their heads.

Less happy words tell of Dellie’s unhappiness when she takes a factory job and gets thrown out:

“The worst was not being seen. Not being a person. The worst was seeing my photograph in the newspaper with the woman who claimed to help me….The shop saw me as a pair of hands.  She saw me and my black eye for her use.  Nothing more.  The same for the other women lined up at the machines as if they, too, were part of the machinery.”

In some ways Near the Hope is similar to Three Souls which is also a granddaughter writing about her Chinese grandmother.  Yet for me, Carey brings to her plot much more life and sense of reality.

I am grateful to Library Thing and Blue Mongoose Press for receiving a review copy of this book.  I seldom know what to expect with review copies.  They can be good or awful or anything in between.  But sometimes they are surprising discoveries like Near the Hope which makes the practice worthwhile.

I enthusiastically recommend this book to all readers who enjoy a gentle, well-written novel.  I look forward to another book by Carey.

Related Reading:

 “Poets in the Kitchen,”  by Paule Marshall.  The essay that Carey says inspired her own writing.

Brown Girl, Brownstone, by Paule Marshal.  An classic by and about a girl whose family came to Brooklyn from Barbados. It is a story of coming of age in a highly prized brownstone and includes a description of the “Poets in the Kitchen.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2014 1:12 am

    Oh I do love most of the Caribbean authors I’ve read, so I’ll have to give Carey a go! Meanwhile I’ve requested Brown Girl, Brownstone from the library because I can’t remember if I read it or not. *blush* I think I’m confusing it with Betsey Brown.

    Have you read Mama Day by Gloria Naylor? If not, you should add it to your TBR list. 😀

    • March 10, 2014 11:16 am

      I agree about Caribbean authors. I am not sure why, but maybe Paule Marshall’s words about the women’s language is relevant. I can’t name the particulars, but they have a particular skill with words.
      Yes, I have read Mama Day and loved it. In grad school, I was reading all the new black women writers because they were showing me lives I had never imagined. They were all important to me reimaging who I was or could be..

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