The Women Unbound Reading Challenge was the perfect excuse that I needed to fill the gap in my Dionne Brand reading with her first novel In Another Place, Not Here.
I bought my copy on the weekend (I loaned out my original) and I read it in one sitting on Sunday, wholly immersed in the poetic prose, in the vivid experiences of Elizete and Verlia, in the lushness of the Caribbean, the starkness of the city I call home, Toronto, familiar but from another time.
Honestly, I remembered loving her more recent novel, What We All Long For (2005), and 2000’s At the Full and Change of the Moon, but I didn’t remember just how much. I didn’t remember how powerful her use of language is, the way that her prose is both weighty and effortless, the way that her characters so wholly inhabit the type on the page and insist on a space beyond.
I hadn’t remembered that, but it all came back with just a few pages of In Another Place, Not Here, the sense of being swept away, that willing immersion. I remember picking up anything of hers that I could get my hands on (poetry, theory, fiction, nonfiction, etc.) and feeling like I wanted to “take notes”, by writing down every single word, voluminous note-taking.
And indeed I feel like the best way to recommend this work is to allow it to speak for itself. Here are two quotes, from the novel’s first section, “Elizete, beckoned”:
“A spirit in the road. It make a silence. It feel like rum going through my throat, warm and violent so the breath of her mouth brush my ear. Sweet sweet, my tongue sweet to answer she and it surprise me how I want to touch she teeth and hold she mouth on that word. I keep walking. I don’t answer. But I regret every minute until I see she next.” (14)
“I wouldn’t call nothing that we do love because love too simple. All the soft-legged oil, all the nakedness brushing, all the sup of neck and arms and breasts. All that touching. Nothing simple about it. All that opening like breaking bones.” (78)
And here are two more, from the novel’s second section, “Verlia, flying”:
“She’s dreamt riding out to sea, a weeping sea, its eyes translucent, its tears glistening, going to someplace so old there’s no memory of it. She wonders what tears that old would taste like. She wonders if they taste like stories she wants to hear.” (126)
“‘We lucky to be in Canada,’ her uncle says. ‘You could do anything here.’ Anything, anything he keeps saying but his anything is small. He means there will be no hunger, you will have clothes on your back, you will have shoes on your feet, and that is enough. (148)
Love and belonging, struggle and survival, independence and freedom: this novel’s themes are universal and epic. It was fascinating to read it between Monique Roffey’s The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (set in Trinidad with distinct historical segments following the same set of characters across time) and Nadifa Mohammed’s Black Mamba Boy (set in northeastern Africa, also with clearly defined historical periods), both of which consider the same themes.
The poetic prose in Brand’s novel is searingly beautiful, but almost overwhelming at times; if my reader’s memory is trustworthy, I’d suggest either her second or third novel for those who want a somewhat more traditional narrative style and structure. And, for those whose poetry muscle is already well-conditioned, Brand has many volumes to choose from: more about that tomorrow.
Have you read Dionne Brand’s work before? If not, do you think you’d like to?