Darwin is a down-on-his-luck gravedigger, newly arrived in the Trinidadian city of Port Angeles to seek his fortune, young and beautiful and lost. Estranged from his mother and the Rastafari faith she taught him, he is convinced that the father he never met may be waiting for him somewhere amid these bustling streets.
Meanwhile in an old house on a hill, where the city meets the rainforest, Yejide’s mother is dying. And she is leaving behind a legacy that now passes to Yejide: the power to talk to the dead. The women of Yejide’s family are human but also not – descended from corbeau, the black birds that fly east at sunset, taking with them the souls of the dead.
Darwin and Yejide both have something that the other needs. Their destinies are intertwined, and they will find one another in the sprawling, ancient cemetery at the heart of the island, where trouble is brewing…
*This book was sent to me by Penguin Hamish Hamilton, please read our disclaimer policy for more information*
Set in a fictional place in Trinidad, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo wrote a novel that will undoubtedly leave you completely and utterly fixated on the storyline. Through the two characters, Darwin and Yejide, we witness a paralleling of love and death. Two themes that remain intertwined and at the forefront of the novel as we gain more clarity to the background, familial ties and relationship between the two characters.
“The dead done dead already and the living following them soon enough.
Through a dual narrative, we jump back and forth between Darwin, a young Rastafarian man who has been disowned by his mother for seeking a job that goes against his religion. And Yejide, a young black woman who lives in a close-knit family with unique powers. The two are the opposite in every sense but they’re undoubtedly drawn to each other with a love that seems to reign powerful throughout.
Darwin’s story is one of fatherlessness and a man seeking to find his own way in the world. It’s clear that he’s trying to figure out who he is but soon realises that his morals, the ones his mother grew him up with, are central to his identity.
A reminder that the morals you learn in childhood become the foundation of who you are.
Darwin seems to be in a constant internal battle with himself as he struggles to work out his relationship with his religion. And what that means for his job, his family and even, himself. I loved how much the reader is taught about Rastafarianism as a religion.
I could tell that this was Ayanna Lloyd Banwo poured some of herself into his character.
Yejide’s character and family really honed on the magic realism within the plot. This felt very reminiscent of Trinidadian culture, and even Caribbean culture in general. Yejide counteracted Darwin as a representation of love and death.
Both characters embody those two themes and play into this dynamic of darkness vs light. Grief and love. There’s a discussion of how one must deal with grief and if there’s truly a best way to accept it. It’s a theme that runs throughout the book and centres the plot.
If Darwin struggled with fatherlessness, Yejide’s relationship with her mother was one to be discussed. Yejide’s family calls into question the idea of legacy and heritage. Is it truly fair to take on the huge responsibility because it’s your birthright? Does one truly have free will if they follow in their family’s footsteps for the greater good?
These are all questions established with the ‘chosen one’ trope. The idea of someone being born into all this power that they may not necessarily want. However, I loved how Ayana Lloyd Banwo explored this through the idea of foremothers and ancestral lines. Yejide’s foremothers were central to her understanding herself and the task laid before you, even in death. Motherhood is a key theme in this book but I won’t go into it too much so as not to spoil the plot. However, Yejide’s relationship with her mother is key to Yejide understanding so much about who she is. I do think I would have liked to have known/seen a little bit more in regards to her trying navigate forced upon her.
This was a beautiful novel that I really enjoyed. It felt true to the culture and I think it’s books like these that truly stand out. Ayanna Lloyd Banwo paid homage to Trinidad through both characters and it was so enjoyable to read about. It was mesmerising and tender. Unique and magical.
“You know what a grave is, Darwin? Is the only piece of real estate most people own in they whole life.”
Completely fantastical as it weaves love and death together into this story.