Oonya Kempadoo’s moving third novel, All Decent Animals, looks at the personal and aesthetic choices of a multifaceted cast of characters on the Caribbean island of Trinidad—a country still developing economically but rich culturally, aiming at “world-class” status amid its poor island cousins. It is a novel about relationships, examined through the distinct rhythms of the city of Port of Spain.
Loyalties, love, conflicting cultures, and creativity come into play as Ata, a young woman working in carnival design but curious about writing, and her European boyfriend, Pierre, negotiate the care of their friend Fraser, a closeted gay man dying from AIDS. The contradictory Trinidadian setting becomes a parallel character to Fraser’s Cambridge-derived artistic sensibility and an antagonist to Ata’s creative journey.
All Decent Animals is a forthright inquiry into the complexity of character, social issues, and island society, with all the island’s humor, mysticism, and tragedy.
Praise for All Decent Animals:
“How am I only now finding out about this writer? It’s as if she’s inventing her own language, which is incantatory, dense, and lush. The authority and blood pulse of it seduced me.” —Karen Russell, O, the Oprah Magazine
“Combining a highly lyrical prose, a superb command of the blending of languages, and an exacting power of observation, Kempadoo creates an unforgettable cast of characters. She also creates a hypnotic picture of Trinidad, one of the crossroads of the Caribbean.” —Claudio I. Remeseira, NBC Latino
“At its core [All Decent Animals] is the story of Ata’s journey to become a writer. Ata evolves, emerging as both an artist from her work in Carnival costume production and freelance graphic design, and as a writer from life experiences among close-knit friends . . . In Kempadoo’s style of writing, the text is a sensory experience: textures, fabrics, costumes, drum rhythms, colors of all vibrancies, tastes, heat, samba, sweat, sex. Often the text has an electric dialect of Trinidad, along with mesmerizing comparative language pulled from the locale. The ‘hustle and knivery’ of the town . . . For Kempadoo, there is much emphasis on place in her characters . . . . For Kempadoo’s characters, the place to look is where things connect; where there is the weaving of people, the coming together of them, the falling apart, the inevitable loss, the assemblage of so many unique threads of experience.” —Christopher X. Shade, New Orleans Review
“Over the last 15 years, Kempadoo has established herself as a preeminent writer of Caribbean fiction . . . Kempadoo’s narration alternates between the formal language of international development and a heavily dialectized slang, to create a creaolized island English. Together with references to local rhythms like calypso, kaiso, and soca, the effect is of sheer saturation, as seamlessly coupled as night jasmine and passion fruit, with certain scenes nearly synesthetic in their blending of sensory impressions. Yet even a climactic and mysterious encounter between lovers grows dark, wrapped in bitter seaweed and plunged in salt water.” —Diego Báez, Booklist
Praise for Tide Running
“Kempadoo is extraordinary. She breaks old stories, makes them anew.” —Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of This Is How You Lose Her
“Oonya Kempadoo is a lyrical poet hiding in a novelist’s form. Tide Running puts most other books to shame with its illustrative details and inventive language. This story is the war of two worlds. The kind of writing you want to tell your friends about. Smart, powerful, and a real pleasure.” —Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
“Kempadoo draws her characters and settings with such vivid strokes that her language leaps off the page . . . Her words create an infectious riot of rhythm and color.” —Jerome Boyd Maunsell, The Times (London)
“The dialogue is one of the chief pleasures of the book, and the rhythms of Oonya Kempadoo’s prose with its poetic interest in sound and evocative phrasing become hypnotic.” —Bronwyn Rivers, The Times Literary Supplement
“[Kempadoo] has shown herself a writer to watch and to enjoy, for her warmth, her fine intelligence and her striking use of language.” —Paula Burnett, The Independent