Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Karen Lord’s debut novel is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit. Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi— who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord’s world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale—but Paama’s adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.

spoilers, sorta, about the structure of the ending

This book is smarter than me. Or it might be more accurate to say that the author is smarter than me. Probably both statements are true. I say this because this story is incredibly self-aware and consistently makes a point of showing off its structure, the types of characters and tropes it contains, the style in which it’s being told , and the overall “point” of the story being told in the first place. For example, nearing the end of the story I was thinking, “Ho hum, nice tale, but not a whole lot of compelling characters.” A couple of pages later, the omniscient narrator pops into say, “Duh, have you been paying attention to the type of story I’m telling here? It’s not the characters’ job to please you, nor is it mine!” It similarly castigates those readers (and I’m one of them) that typically groan at stories having obvious morals or lessons one’s supposed to learn at the end. And of course, the narrator says, “I told you in the beginning what the entire story was going to be about! Stop complaining!”

And what is the story about? Choices mostly, and chaos and human agency and how even with the presence of supernatural beings like the djombi, it isn’t entirely correct to blame them for all the bad things that happen, nor are they entirely responsible for saving human lives and pushing events in a direction they’re supposed to go because human choice will more often than not override attempts to have things go differently.

It’s funny, normally I would be really annoyed at a story told like this in which the narration explicitly explains what roles the characters in the story fulfill, what their motives are, and what the entire story is even about. However, the author tells the story in such a way that all of these asides and explanations are part and parcel of the story itself; it’s like a story typically told orally translated into a written version. Additionally, there are parts of the story in which readers is given the answer, but in a vague, roundabout manner, so they still have to do some fancy footwork to figure out what exactly has happened and what implications it will have the for the rest of the story. And I should say right now that the writing is so excellent – every single word feels carefully chosen and the story is told concisely without losing any detail, texture or depth. I am very envious of Karen Lord’s skill right now.

And yeah, in writing all of this, I haven’t said any thing about Paama and the journey she goes on, the chaos stick, and the various djombi sticking their noses into human affairs. This isn’t to say they aren’t integral to the story, but rather than being one of the most important parts, they share equal footing with all the rest of the components that make up this story. It’s one of those rare cases where every story is perfectly balanced. If you love meta in your stories and some seriously competent, assured writing, this book is perfect.

Disclosure – library