Arts

The Salt Roads travels through time and space

Saltroads_coverThe Salt Roads, written by Nalo Hopkinson, blurs the line between history and mythology, leaving the reader bewildered and coming back for more. The novel brings us into the lives of multiple women: Mer, a plantation slave doctor; Thais, an Ethiopian prostitute; and Jeanne Duval; a woman of mixed ancestry living in England. Despite being from different time periods, these women are all bound by the mischievous goddess Ezili, a goddess from Haitian Voodoo, who finds herself transported into these women’s bodies and plays a hand in their fate.

The Salt Roads is a novel about women, their survival, and their relationships to men. First, the reader is taken to a slave plantation in St. Dominigue to meet Mer, the slave doctor. Mer is a slave on a plantation on the island of St. Domingue, the island that is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In Mer’s story, the theme of Voodoo, the religion the slaves brought with them from West Africa, is especially strong. Here, determining which parts of the story are reality and fantasy truly depend on the reader’s belief in voodoo.

We also follow the story of Jeanne Duval closely, a characters based on the Haitian-born actress and dancer of mixed ancestry who was also the mistress and muse of poet Charles Baudelaire. Hopkinson takes us into their gritty, tumultuous relationship. This story is truly about the tension between Jeanne and her African ancestry: it is what Charles loves about her, but it is what also isolates her from his society. How does their relationship unfold? Read the novel.

The story of Thais is set in 300 AD; it is a departure from the Haitian theme, but her story is as complex as the other two women, despite her being a sex worker, who are often marginalized in the media. The end of the her story will leave you shocked, as Hopkinson uses Eastern Orthodox as fodder for her tale.

Hopkinson explores and juxtaposes these religions through her three beautifully crafted characters. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Junot Diaz, literary genius behind The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, describes Hopkinson’s protagonists as “unforgettable—formidable haunted women drawn with an almost unbearable honesty.”

Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born speculative fiction writer and professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. Her most famous novel is Brown Girl in the Ring, a dystopian novel set in Toronto, but she has written many more novels, making the voices of writers of color more prominent in the the world of science fiction. Her novels incorporates Afro-Caribbean culture while exploring complex these such as race, sexuality, and class. The Salt Roads is no exception; it’s eccentricity and complexity is refreshing.