Soucouyant is not a new book, but it’s a book I’ve placed on a pedestal for many years and one that I continue to share widely with anyone who will listen (the cover is also one of my favorites!). A lovely student recommended the novel to me when we were traveling to a public speaking tournament many years ago. I read it on the plane ride home and wept in my seat. So while I’ve read some excellent books over these past few months, when I was deciding on which one to review, David Chariandy’s Soucouyant popped into focus–probably because it’s never very far from me–and I hope to inspire more people to read and relish it the way I have. The story is so intimately and tenderly told by Chariandy that it is impossible not to become completely invested in its imagery and characters.
Soucouyant is a story about so many things–mothers and sons, connections to and disconnections from one’s place of birth, the racism experienced by so many new immigrants to Canada, personal and collective histories–but to me it’s really about remembering and forgetting. It’s about how both can hold healing and hurt.
Chariandy constructs his narrative around an unnamed son returning home to care for his mother, Adele, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Though Adele is losing memories and her grip on reality, she is still able to share “re-memories” with her son by re-constructing stories that are slowly assembled throughout the book until shocking and powerful truths are revealed at the end. At times, forgetting is an act of self-protection, of survival. At other times, it’s a painful loss. Chariandy’s complex treatment of memory and forgetting and his utterly compassionate portrayal of Adele stayed with me long after I’d finished reading.
Throughout the book, Chariandy also layers his realistic narrative with a more supernatural telling that is rooted in Trinidadian folklore. The soucouyant itself–an evil spirit–makes appearances in various forms, and some stories of the past seem dreamlike and shaky, keeping the reader uncertain and unsettled. These folkloric, magical elements add another level of complexity to the experiences of the characters.
All of this is made even more poignant through Chariandy’s lyrical, stunning prose. Each sentence is a poem, offering new moments and suggestions in every re-reading.
Soucouyant is one of my top three favorite books of all time (message me and I’ll reveal the other two!). I’ve gone back to it many times over the years, taught it in my creative writing classes, and will continue to encourage as many people as I can to read it. Please do.