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All Decent Animals: A Novel by Oonya…
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All Decent Animals: A Novel (2013)

by Oonya Kempadoo

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I picked this up after going through lists of authors for the Caribbean theme in Reading Globally for the first quarter of this year. This had the benefit of being available at my library. After publishing her first two novels relatively close together (1998 and 2001) there was a twelve year gap between the second and this, her third novel. Kempadoo was born in England to Guyanese parents and brought up in Guyana from the age of five onward. While Guyana is part of the South American continent it is considered part of the Caribbean both linguistically and culturally, and is part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The book centers around a Ata, an artist who has returned to Trinidad to live (she is not from Trinidad but has considers 'Caribbean' to be her nationality). She has worked with Carnival costume designers and is now starting an office job. The book focuses most on her, I'd say, but the always-third-person narration floats around between her and her group of friends representing a wide variety of people, backgrounds, classes and views. The book takes place mostly just before, during, and after Carnival. Some reviewers have said it felt like she tried to cram every aspect of Trinidad into a relatively short book, but I felt like that worked because of being set around Carnival.

As the focus of the narration changes so does the language, going from no Creole slang/dialect to using a fair bit (most of it totally understandable to the outsider). Having the mix change really works, though had me wishing over and over there were an audio edition (it would be an excellent audiobook, with a good reader, of course). I'm really curious about the simultaneous usage of youall and allyou and why one is chosen over another at any given time since externally they mean the same thing (for the corollaries in my part of Appalachia and the upper Ohio River valley I'd be tempted to say that 'allyou' is more personal and 'youall' more general).

The biggest plot part of the book is one of Ata's group, an architect and gay man, Fraser, having a serious medical collapse which turns out to be due to AIDS, which has already seriously damaged his kidneys. The rush to help him, but also judgement of his choices and difficult decisions, is a key part of the book, with Ata seemingly taking on more of his care than anyone else. His sickness sets some cracks running through their group.

It is a busy book, a full book, and a swift book. Towards the end there are some things that I don't really get, one of which seemed totally unnecessary and goes unresolved, but otherwise I think it's a pretty solid novel with beautiful writing. The hills are almost a character themselves, which, being a West Virginia girl, I appreciated and related to. The top four or five reviews on Goodreads give you a good sense of it, and what potential problems are, I think. ( )
2 vote mabith | Jan 31, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374299714, Hardcover)

Oonya Kempadoo’s moving third novel, All Decent Animals, looks at the personal and aesthetic choices of a multifaceted cast of characters on the Caribbean island of Trinidad—a country still developing economically but rich culturally, aiming at “world-class” status amid its poor island cousins. It is a novel about relationships, examined through the distinct rhythms of the city of Port of Spain.

 

Loyalties, love, conflicting cultures, and creativity come into play as Ata, a young woman working in carnival design but curious about writing, and her European boyfriend, Pierre, negotiate the care of their friend Fraser, a closeted gay man dying from AIDS. The contradictory Trinidadian setting becomes a parallel character to Fraser’s Cambridge-derived artistic sensibility and an antagonist to Ata’s creative journey.

 

All Decent Animals is a forthright inquiry into the complexity of character, social issues, and island society, with all the island’s humor, mysticism, and tragedy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:29 -0400)

"A novel about relationships, examined through the distinct rhythms of the city of Port of Spain. Loyalties, love, conflicting cultures, and creativity come into play as Ata, a young woman working in carnival design but curious about writing, and her European boyfriend, Pierre, negotiate the care of their friend Fraser, a closeted gay man dying from AIDS. The contradictory Trinidadian setting becomes a parallel character to Fraser's Cambridge-derived artistic sensibility and an antagonist to Ata's creative journey"--Jacket.… (more)

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