EACH SCHOOL year brings more than its fair share of challenges and stress, but you can face those pressures and achieve academic success by reading good literature. Just squeeze a half hour from your social media time every day to develop better comprehension and analytical skills. You’ll understand structure in writing better, become more empathetic and develop a better vocabulary.
Currently, Caribbean fiction is making a splash internationally, but a growing number of non-fiction books – particularly memoirs – are noteworthy.
Well-written memoirs are as challenging as a good mystery novel because they force readers to analyse how events impact our lives. They show us how history, culture and race shape us individually and influence our world views.
Here are six Caribbean memoirs to get you started on your academic journey to success. These memoirs will sharpen the analytical skills needed for all of your subjects. They provide vivid, unforgettable snapshots of Caribbean history, giving you the chance to feel our history – not just read about it in a textbook.
- Love the Dark Days by Ira Mathur – We talk about TT being a nation of immigrants, but this OCM Bocas prize-winning memoir shows the breadth of that immigrant experience even in the present. Mathur’s unique writing voice glides between delicate and bold to conjure up those deep, unexplainable feelings we have about family, home and belonging. As a journalist, Mathur takes readers on an unforgettable journey that crosses religious, cultural and national boundaries to tell her story set in India, London, Trinidad, Tobago and St Lucia.
This memoir has the poignancy of Jean Rhys’s memoir Smile Please, the adventure of MM Kaye’s novel The Far Pavilions and the astute awareness of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s stories about immigrants and India. Mathur’s gift for imagery and characterisation is astounding.
2. Song for My Father by S Brian Samuel – This memoir captures the experiences the growing number of third-culture children face. These cultural nomads face constant physical and cultural upheaval as Samuel did as a child moving throughout the Caribbean, the US and England. Samuel has a gift for tackling tough topics – colonialism, bullying, racism, abandonment, confidence – with gutsy humour. His many moves throughout the Caribbean, the US and England make readers ponder the true meaning of roots.
I have seen no writer who is more masterful at using metaphor to drive a point home.
3. Smile Please by Jean Rhys – If you’re already an established reader, Rhys’s unfinished autobiography is a worthy challenge. She writes with a mesmerising, melancholy tone that captures the essence of how being an outsider affects all of us. In her childhood home in Dominica she was the white cockroach; in Europe she was the exotic immigrant.
4. The Stranger Who Is Myself by Barbara Jenkins – The subtle power of this memoir makes it a memorable and thought-provoking read. Jenkins masterfully crafts the essence of setting, which is both time and place. Her story is a poignant representation of any immigrant returning home and coming to grips with the raw emotions that stem from the transition of fitting back into a place that is much different from childhood memories.
This memoir is an invaluable lesson in how structure, setting and imagery enhance characterisation. No adjective describes how beautifully written this memoir is.
5. The Islander by Chris Blackwell – Many people know the story of the founder of Island Records and his part in recording Bob Marley. This memoir, published in 2022, is full of surprising revelations about how Blackwell struggled with his life of privilege and his position among the white minority in Jamaica. His personal story chronicles the history of Jamaica through music. There’s mention of the late Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Kitchener.
His insights are profound; his story is mesmerising and you can listen to songs you don’t know on YouTube. Students interested in business will enjoy this memoir also.
6. Another Mother by Ross Kenneth Urken – This unusual memoir includes a bit of detective work as Urken’s nostalgic memories for his beloved childhood nanny leads him to find out about her life. Many children have had lives guided and influenced by their families’ housekeepers and that makes this memoir relevant. It’s a witty, profound, thought-provoking and enjoyable read that demonstrates how fragile cultural boundaries are. With this memoir, Urken shatters socio-economic boundaries.
Remember, if an average book has 75,000 words, half an hour of reading every day means you would read an average of 25 books in a year.