Full of flavour and sweetness, that’s the only way to describe this book.
I truly believe that the core message in all literature both fiction and non-fiction is identity. People ideally are seeking meaning and validation to their experiences and their stories; and at the end of the day, if we take time to listen to each other, pieces of our stories are all intertwined together.
That’s how I felt while reading Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta. These stories were part of my story and each piece in the collection spoke to a different part of my truth.
In this collection of short stories, we follow the journey as a young girl becomes a woman. Kara seeks to carve out her space in a world that is giving her conflicting messages about who she is and who she should be.
From first kisses, first drinks to failed friendships and betrayal, Kara as she goes from being a young girl to a young adult growing up in the Toronto neighbourhood of Eglinton West, better known as ‘Little Jamaica.’
Although she is raised as a Jamaican Canadian, she is often criticized by her peers and her own family for not being ‘Jamaican’ enough, something I can identify with first hand.
We follow Kara on her search for belonging, understanding, freedom and identity. At the core of Kara’s quest is the underlining question of what makes her Jamaican? What makes her Canadian? And more importantly how do these competing identities play a role in her life.
What I love most is the emphasis that is placed on the women in her life. Through Kara’s eyes, we are able to see three generations of women in her family and the ways they interact with each other, the way they’ve had to conform and also how they deal with conflict.
Raised by her mom, Kara lives by strict rules and her mother keeps her on a short leash. I love the way her mom pushes her and makes so many sacrifices so that she can go to the best school and receive the best possible education.
Kara’s Grandmother though is a character I’ve met many times and embodies the typical Jamaican matriarch role. Although she is a caring, loving and strong woman she is also weak and ignores and avoids conflict in order to keep the peace.
Kara’s grandfather cheats on her grandmother with many women yet instead of ending the relationship and moving on her grandmother stays and attempts to keep up the appearance for the church and the community. Their relationship is confusing and unhealthy yet it works for them.
There’s one story where Kara sees first hand how her grandfather is a cheater and liar yet she keeps it to herself because she realizes that her grandmother already knows too but chooses to ignore his behaviour.
“She had to know what I’d only just discovered: that peace could only exist in this family when we lied about everything, at least to each other.” (Page 193)
Secrets, lies, and avoidance play a huge part in Kara’s life and the lives of the other women in her family, but their love and respect for each other are what keeps the family together.
Fried plantains are a traditional treat in Jamaica, and I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember. Try them once and you’ll be hooked. Plantains are full of flavour when ripe and cooked and that’s precisely how I felt about this collection, that is was filled with flavour. If I were to change one thing about this collection, I would make it longer, because I didn’t want it to end. A well-written, relatable and touching read, I can’t wait to read more from this evolving voice.
Thanks to House of Anansi Press for providing this book in exchange for my honest review.