As first posted on feministbookclub.com
The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts by Soraya Palmer hit me right in my gut. This a story about a family, but it is also about stories in general and how they held that family together. Sensitive Zora is a writer, like her namesake, and stories are her vehicle of escape. Fiery Sasha is the lost one, and stories are her anchor back to herself. Their parents show love to the sisters through stories, and the sisters use stories to distract from the volatile love of their parents.
The narrator doesn’t just tell the family’s story; the author also weaves in different folktales from Jamacia, where the father is from, and Trinidad, where the mother (Beatrice Porter) is from. The girls use the stories they grew up with to make sense of their lives and save them. But the stories also are ghosts, lingering around and haunting the family, especially Beatrice.
A Different Kind of Storytelling
At times The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts was repetitive, but that didn’t annoy me. Like all stories, perspectives change based on who is telling the story, how they add their own personalities, and what they have experienced in the world that has morphed the story.
The narrator is “mischievous”. Many times the narrator breaks the fourth wall to interject their own opinions and observations. There are different conventions such as quizzes and interruptions. These added richness to an unconventional story.
Queer and Caribbean
I waited a bit to read The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts, but I started it at the perfect time. I listened to this book in June, which is Audiobook Appreciation Month, Pride, and Read Caribbean Month. It was the perfect trifecta.
Throughout the novel, the girls aren’t very tied to their Caribbean heritage except through the stories their parents tell. Both parents were running from ghosts from their home countries and wanted to keep their daughters separate from those lives. However, their stories were their foundation, for themselves and their girls.
*Warning: slight spoilers*
The ghosts both parents are trying to escape have to do with distancing themselves from queerness. And because of generational trauma, Sasha is trying to escape the same ghosts within herself, even though she doesn’t know who they are. The biggest battle Sasha faces isn’t necessarily figuring out who she is, but figuring out why she fights it as much as she does.
Overall, I really enjoyed this story. Stories are so powerful, and I felt drawn to the folklore, the magical realism, and the unconventional way the author engages with the reader. It can be a much different experience for readers, but such an impactful one.