Cherie Jones | Barbados
I didn’t realize it while I was reading it, or even after I was done, but Cherie Jones has written a truly heart-wrenching, honest, and thought-provoking novel that exposes the things-we-don’t-talk-about because we live in paradise. This book hit me hard and in a very personal way after I read it, so much so that I needed some time to figure out how I felt and why I felt that way. It took one-on-one and group conversations before I could put my true feelings into perspective. Some books do that to you.
It’s difficult to read a book where many characters are experiencing sexual and physical abuse. However, this is the reality for people living in the Caribbean and I confess my truth is that I didn’t want to read about it in such detail, and it took me a long time to admit that to myself.
Jones explores in One-Armed Sister the contrasting lifestyles between the well-off white tourists and the poorer black locals living on Baxter’s Beach. Through Lala, Esme, and Wilma, she explores generational sexual abuse and how it was perpetuated. Admittedly their experiences are difficult to read because the mental health of these women are neglected. I had to be reminded that in the 1980s in the Caribbean, mental health was not acknowledged as important as it is today. While via Adan, Lala’s husband who is an abusive career criminal, and Tone, his friend who runs with him in petty crimes, themes of child rape, male prostitution, and machoism are explored.
Although this is a well-written book (Jones will make you feel everything, does a good job of giving you the backstory of the main characters, and her descriptive details make you feel like you’re in this coastal town), I feel all of this is overshadowed by the violence Lala experiences at the hands of her husband Adan. He’s brutal and you feel her fear. Her last encounter with him left me feeling heavy inside. But that brings the reader to the larger topic of how people in the Caribbean have their baggage that often gets neglected because we don’t talk about abuse and mental illness from the perspective of getting help. Or how to break the family cycle that perpetuates violence against women while others look on and think it’s normal.
I do feel that this book tackles a taboo subject in an honest and open way. And not because it will make you uncomfortable means it’s not worth reading. I didn’t enjoy reading this book mostly because of the heaviness of the subject matter, but I’m glad I read it because I got to be part of conversations with other women and share how this topic made us feel and the importance of taking care of our mental health, something that needs more attention in the Caribbean.
For more insight on How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, read my conversation with Cherie Jones.
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