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The Girl with the Golden Shoesby Colin Channer
Synopses & Reviews
Set in 1942 on the imagined island of San Carlos, a cultural cocktail of Trinidad, Cuba, and Jamaica, this is the story of Estrella Thompson, a headstrong fourteen-year-old girl who’s forced to fend for herself when she’s banished from the isolated fishing village where she’s lived all her life.
Colin Channer’s major works of fiction include the novel Waiting in Vain and the story collection Passing Through, which Junot Díaz described as “a splendid collection by one of the Caribbean Diaspora’s finest writers.” He also edited Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica’s Calabash Writer’s Workshop (Akashic Books, 2006). Channer is an assistant professor of English and the coordinator of the BA creative writing program at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York.
"A picaresque set on the fictional Caribbean island of San Carlos in 1942, Channer's rewarding and tense novella follows the journey of fishing village outcast Estrella Thompson, a precocious 14-year-old with a woman's body who seeks shoes, employment and acceptance in the capital city of Seville after being excommunicated from her village. Along the way, she meets sundry men, some of whom offer to help her and almost none of whom ought to be trusted. Estrella comes of age practically by the hour, learning what to expect of others, what to value in herself and how to make her own demands. Channer writes with an intriguing, lyrical blend of English and Caribbean patois and uses simple language and crisp imagery (a woman's face is 'as plain and inexpressive as an egg'; beach sand is 'so white that on the coolest days you had to squint to see it'). While Channer's earlier work engaged the psyche of Caribbean diaspora in less subtle narratives (Waiting in Vain; Satisfy My Soul), this novella — a moral fable, Russell Banks notes in his afterword — signals the arrival of a talent matured." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Estrella Roselyn Maria Eugenia Thompson, the heroine of the short, beautiful novella 'The Girl with the Golden Shoes,' is one of those characters who steal your heart. It seems not exactly correct to call her a character, however. She feels too real, too genuine. She is more like home folks, those friends and relatives you know from the inside out. In fact, much of Colin Channer's... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) touching story shimmers with truth and authenticity. 'The Girl With the Golden Shoes' is essentially a Caribbean fable that holds a universal vision of self-discovery and resonates with the local patois floating on a soft, salty breeze. It is the story of 14-year-old Estrella, who, in 1942, sets out in her only dress, fleeing her seaside fishing village for the 'city,' in hopes of work and a pair of shoes. Threatened and abandoned by her family and ostracized by her community, she makes her way alone. The sin for which she must pay is that of seeking the unknown, whether on the pages of a book or in the voice of a stranger from under the sea. Her fellow villagers fear that a six-week run of bad fishing was caused by Estrella's brashness in engaging a scuba diver on the beach. They 'felt as if the girl had put them under siege, a sense that if they didn't act, then history would remember them as people who'd watched and waited while their way of life was slowly laid to waste.' But, as the exiled Estrella makes her shaky way — by foot, by bus, by horse, by truck — readers realize what the villagers did not: An explorer is simply what she is. She can't help herself. Channer, the Jamaican-American author of two previous novels and a short story collection, conjures up unforgettable images. On the first leg of Estrella's trip, her 'stubby, silver bus' crawls 'north along the wild Atlantic coast ... like a beetle on a trail of gum.' Estrella's story is one of longing, strength, wrong-headedness. And through it all, the reader falls under the sway of a flawed but brave heroine who can be hard as flint or as vulnerable as a newborn. 'What did it mean that all her thoughts of fishing hadn't frozen into hate? You have to harden your heart, she told herself. Otherwise, you might go back.' Yearning is a leitmotif in this novella, and Channer hits every note of that theme with heart-wrenching specificity. At one point in her journey, a hungry, lonely Estrella spies a comforting scene: 'Across the street she saw the orange light of bottle torches glowing in the stalls. ... She could also see the silhouettes of dogs and milling people, and smell the garlic marinade in which the cuts of shark were left to soak all day before the old negritas dipped them in the cornmeal batter, turning them to make the grainy mixture cream the meat, which they'd slide into the iron pots that had been used by their grandmothers, and the batter-covered meat would settle in the oily depths where all the salty flavor lurked and gain a brittle shell.' Parts of Estrella's journey are difficult to endure. At the end, the author has readers on their seats in 'a whitewalled Buick Century' right along with the heroine, fearful that she is being taken to a fate even worse than she envisioned. Still Channer is such a master that the reader feels safe in his hands. 'The Girl with the Golden Shoes' is a sparkling gift, the tale of a meager, shoeless, raggedy abandoned Cinderella whose hardships make her all the wiser. 'I see for myself now,' Estrella muses. 'All man is man. All flesh is flesh.' Tina McElroy Ansa's fifth novel, 'Taking After Mudear,' will be published in October." Reviewed by Luz LazoTina McElroy Ansa, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
A dazzling coming-of-age novella by Jamaica's best-selling writer.
Fiction. African-American Studies. Set in 1942 on the imagined island of San Carlos, a cultural cocktail of Trinidad, Cuba, and Jamaica, this is the story of Estrella Thompson, a headstrong fourteen year-old girl who's forced to fend for herself when she's banished from the isolated fishing village where she's lived all her life.
About the Author
COLIN CHANNER's major works of fiction include the novel Waiting in Vain and the story collection Passing Through, which Junot Diaz described as "a splendid collection by one of the Caribbean Diaspora's finest writers." He is an assistant professor of English and the coordinator of the B.A. creative writing program at Medgar Evers College.
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