Title: The Mermaid of Black Conch
Writer: Monique Roffey
Publishing House: Peepal Tree Press Ltd
Date of Publication: April 2nd 2020
Rating: 5 stars
‘’That morning David played her soft hymns he’d learnt as a boy, praising God. He sang holy songs for her, songs which brought tears to his eyes, and there they stayed, on this second meeting, a small patch of sea apart, watching each other – a young, wet-eyed Black Conch fisherman with an old guitar, and a mermaid who’d arrived on the currents from Cuban waters, where once they talked of her by the name of Aycayia.’’
An ancient mermaid is captured by greedy white men. She was a woman, once, but she was cursed to become a creature of the sea because of her beauty. Cursed by women, threatened and abused by men. But a young fisherman, kind-hearted and wise, rescues her and she joins the mortal world once again. However, the ‘’modern’’ society is not modern at all, and there are forces that never change, no matter the centuries that separate the generations.
One of the most beautiful and moving stories you’ll ever read welcomes you with open arms.
‘’My lungs fill up with water
but I know the sea better than Yankee men
Woman put me in the sea
Call for huracan
Now man want to take me out
I feel fresh pain
next man pulling on the line
The hook in my throat
I want to go down to die.’’
Roffey sets her hypnotic, haunting story during the 70s, the era of changes. But ‘change’’ is a rather ambiguous word and ‘’change’’ often becomes the smoke-screen and excuse for profit at all costs. In her beautiful novel, Roffey pays homage to the traditions of the Caribbean, the myths of the relationship between mortal men and mermaids and comments on themes that are highly relevant to our troubled times. Race, sexuality, migration, violence, ruthless profit. How the white race takes and takes and takes. How women can be cruel and dangerous when jealousy and pure malice take over their souls. Instead of standing together, they become the worst threat. Men and women violate bodies and souls. This is the reality Aycayia has to face.
‘’The bald earth drank up all the rain. The tough white grass turned green. Mornings were cool and hazy. Mist clung to the tops of the mountains, where the temperature was cool. Large, matronly macajuel snakes, heavy with eggs, unfurled themselves and travelled slow slow through the dense rainforest, seeking the crystal water that gathered in pods in the crevises roots of trees.’’
Through the songs and hymns and the lullaby of the sea, through Aycayia’s laments (brilliantly presented as long fry-style poems/ folk songs), through the wild laughter of the women of the past and the deep pond between Aycayia and David and the kindness of Arcadia, Life and Reggie, inspired by Neruda’s The Mermaid and the Drunks, echoing Marquez’s works, Monique Roffey creates a story that we should cherish. A journey to a captivating natural environment, the depths of the human soul and the way we mercilessly destroy our world.
‘’I knew that ghosts came onto the land from the sea. You could feel them out there. I sat and wondered just what kinda men get murder here in this bay and for what reason? White men arrive from far away and then sail back to where they came from. I always figure is feelings of being insecure that make someone want to take from others. The white men who came here were full of jumbie spirit, always restless. Ghosts came into the bay, ghosts of white men, and red men and black men like me, and these ghosts came like a current bringing unease and nervousness. Is only my humble opinion. But this is what white men bring here to the Caribbean: trouble. Then and now, they always looking, then taking something.’’