The Ladies are Upstairs

READ THE WORLD – Grenada: The Ladies are Upstairs by Merle Collins

The Ladies are Upstairs is a collection of short stories. The first is about Rain Darling and the following ten follow Doux Thibaut who from the 1930s to the new century negotiates a hard life on the Caribbean island of Paz. As a child there is the shame of poverty and illegitimacy, and there are the hazards of sectarianism in an island divided between Catholic and Protestant, the rigidity of a class and racial system where, if you are Black, your white employer is always right. When Doux is an old lady moving between the homes of her children in Boston and New York, she wonders whether they and her grandchildren really appreciate what her life has taught her.

The first story, “Rain Darling”, is about fifty pages long and sees three women travelling to a hospital to see another, that being Rain. It then goes back and forth between Rain’s present in the hospital and her past from childhood to teen years to adulthood and how one secret shatters her whole world. Rain’s life is a sad one, stuck with an aunt who doesn’t care or nurture her, forcing her to leave school at a young age even though Rain is bright, not being able to be with her mother, sister or her beloved father. It’s really quite depressing.

What makes Rain’s story even sadder is how it’s juxtaposed with Doux’s. They both live lives that have ups and downs but how they, and their families, respond to those hazards of life is vastly different.

Doux is headstrong even as a child and will stand up for herself. She’s also smart and capable but she has teachers and family who support and encourage her. Looking at Rain and Doux it’s easy to see how vastly different a child’s life can be if they have people who care about them. There still may be issues like money, and Doux’s mother can be strict, but the fact that Doux gets to have an education and then goes to have a family of her own shows how life can be a little easier when you’ve got a firm foundation from childhood.

The ten short stories about Doux follow her as she grows up. In most she’s the main character and the story is from her point of view but in some it’s about the people around her including her children and even her midwife. There are also some stories that get a bit creepy which I wasn’t expecting. They’re like short horror stories as a woman finds an abandoned child on the street at night who is not what they seem or a woman who disappears from a car. It’s those kinds of supernatural tales that are passed on as something a friend’s uncle saw once and they’re quite disconcerting after the more standard family drama type stories.

Both Rain and Doux live in Paz, a stand in for Grenada, and the way the landscape and towns are described paint a vivid picture in your head. The fact that characters speak patois and other colloquial languages make them seem more real. Also, how language and speech patterns change over time, especially in Doux’s stories that span sixty or more years, helps show how people and society changes.

The Ladies are Upstairs is an interesting short story collection and consuming Rain and Doux’s stories back-to-back make each of them more layered and interesting.

Blackathon/Black History Month TBR

February is Black History Month in USA and Canada (it’s in October here in the UK) and Jesse from Bowties & Books has brought back Blackathon – a month long readathon celebrating books by Black authors and Black creators and businesses on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. There are teams depending what type of books you read – Team Science-Fiction/Fantasy, Team Literary/Contemporary/Non-fiction, and Team Thriller/Horror and different YouTube and Instagram hosts for each team. You can find out more about Blackathon on Twitter and from Jesse’s announcement video.

There are prompts for each Team/genre but the overarching theme of Blackathon is “travellers/traveling”. That can be interpreted in different ways; a character could physically travel to different places, cities or countries, a character could go on a spiritual journey, a character could go on an emotional journey. It’s up to you how you apply or interpret the theme.

While the exact prompts for Blackathon didn’t really inspire me or I didn’t think I currently owned any books that would fit those prompts, I thought the general theme of “travel” was something present in a fair few of the books on my TBR. So, this is a Blackathon-inspired TBR/general Black History Month TBR as I make books by Black authors a priority in February.

In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy
After false starts in teaching and social work, Melda Hayley finds her mission in fostering the damaged children of the first generation of Black settlers in a deeply racist 1950s Britain. But though Melda finds daily uplift in her work, her inner life starts to come apart. Her brother Arnie has married a white woman and his defection from the family and the distress Melda witnesses in the children she fosters causes her own buried wounds to weep. But though the past drives Melda towards breakdown, she finds strength there too, especially in the memories of the loving, supporting women of the yards.

The Ladies Are Upstairs by Merle Collins
From the 1930s to the new century Doux Thibaut negotiates a hard life on the Caribbean island of Paz. As a child there is the shame of poverty and illegitimacy, and there are the hazards of sectarianism in an island divided between Catholic and Protestant, the rigidity of a class and racial system where, if you are Black, your white employer is always right. When Doux is an old lady moving between the homes of her children in Boston and New York, she wonders whether they and her grandchildren really appreciate what her life has taught her.

The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Silá
Ndani leaves her villages to seek a better life in the capital, finding work as a maid for a Portuguese family. The mistress of the house, Dona Deolinda, embarks on a mission to save Ndani’s soul through religious teaching, but the master of the house has less righteous intentions.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland – and he knew he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams.

Do you set your TBR around events like Black History Month? Or what books are you generally hoping to pick up soon?