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Red Jacket by Pamela Mordecai
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Red Jacket

by Pamela Mordecai

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What an interesting reading experience this book was for me. Mordecai's novel (her first one) is definitely a smart and accomplished work, though the themes are pretty heavy, and there are many layers within the story. Mordecai has had success as a poet, evidenced in her wonderful writing style - I definitely enjoyed how she played with language in Red Jacket and it was some impressive linguistic gymnastics, to be sure. Mordecai is a master!

I also really appreciate the lens she offers on such important social/societal issues like feminism, racism, religion, and health epidemics (HIV/AIDS in this book). I feel like this is required reading, a work that resonated with importance for me as I was working my way through it.

My only 'Yes, but...' with the novel is the ending - and I mean the very, very end of the book. Approaching the mid-way point of the book, and after a good long time with the main character of Grace Carpenter, the narrative shifted to two other characters, James and Mark. Initially it felt a bit awkward and clunky - it did end up coming together well. But the final page of the book just didn't work so well for me. (Actually, I had some 'Yes, but...' moments with Mark's wife, Mona, too.) But I do feel like this story and these characters will sit with me for a time. And I may even revisit the final chapter to give it more thought and closer consideration.

A finalist for the 2015 Writers' Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, this is the jury citation:

"Pamela Mordecai’s Red Jacket is a richly rewarding reading experience, a lyrical nod to the impossibility, and even wrongness, of reducing lives to chronology or to one or two crystalizing moments. Myriad points of view, a variety of englishes, and a wise and smartly handled fractured timeline are mined to unearth the powerful story of Grace Carpenter and to gather up and pay homage to the village that constitutes her community, at home and abroad. This book is more than a heartbreaking, beautiful story; it is also a bawdy meditation on storytelling and the art of writing. "

I enjoyed this moment in an interview with Mordecai, from Open Book Toronto:

OB:
Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

PM:
The book raises all kinds of questions, but the central one perhaps concerns the extent to which we are in charge of our own destiny. Do we direct our lives, or are we the victims of a fate handed to us, over which we have little control? Are our lives determined by where we are born, the circumstances of that birth, who our parents are, the quality of our education, the opportunities life offers us and so on? I wouldn’t say I had that question in my mind when I started. I had a vague idea that I wanted to put the female protagonist through the wringer, to see how she’d endure the battering, but I think the Big Question emerged in the writing. ( )
  Booktrovert | Feb 24, 2016 |
The first novel from Jamaican-born poet, short-story writer, and scholar Pamela Mordecai is a deliberately paced, trenchant story of one woman’s coming of age on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Chris, and her difficult journey away from the security and familiarity of her loving home to find a place for herself in the wider world...Despite being thematically heavy, Red Jacket is an accomplished, intelligent novel. It is to be savoured for its multiple layers of meaning and – especially – its richness of language.
 
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amazon ca : product description Growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Chris, Grace Carpenter never feels like she really belongs. Although her large, extended family is black, she is a redibo. Her skin is copper-coloured, her hair is red, and her eyes are grey. A neighbour taunts her, calling her “a little red jacket,” but the reason for the insult is never explained. Only much later does Grace learn the story of her birth mother and decipher the mystery surrounding her true identity.
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Growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Chris, Grace Carpenter never feels like she really belongs. Although her large, extended family is black, she is a redibo. Her skin is copper-colored, her hair is red, and her eyes are grey. A neighbor taunts her, calling her "a little red jacket," but the reason for the insult is never explained. Only much later does Grace learn the story of her birth mother and decipher the mystery surrounding her true identity.… (more)

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