The Girl with the Golden Shoes

Estrella is an island girl who gets banished from her fishing village that is too small to have a name, and that is too small for a young woman who has taught herself to read in a place where a sudden lack of fish is easily explained by a curse (and where being different makes you a likely suspect for having placed that very curse). Our rejected heroine instead sets out to chart her own future–a future that she hopes will eventually take her to Europe, where the war is going on and where, perhaps, life would be more exciting than on the island where time seems to stand still. We get to follow Estrella on her quest to take the first step toward that future, a quest to get to town and to find a job–and to buy her first pair of shoes. Colin Channer’s tale about the misadventures of Estrella is charming and beautifully written in its use of a mix of Caribbean patois dialogue and crisp English. This book is easily devoured in one sitting, and is quite captivating if not entirely memorable. Russell Banks exceedingly academic afterword helpfully points out the lessons that we are supposed to take away from this “moral fable,” explaining how the author has so skillfully “introduced into it elements that are native to the Caribbean archipelago and therefore the African diaspora, bringing it up to speed, as it were, and in the process reinvigorating it.” I prefer to read The Girl with the Golden Shoes without having what I would consider a pretty good story deconstructed at the end–I am pretty sure that those original moral fables were designed primarily to entertain, while discreetly feeding the reader some universal moral lessons. And Chandler does a pretty good job of that in this coming-of-age story with underlying themes of race, class and colonial oppression. (Tove Malmquist)

by Colin Channer, $13.95, 172 pgs, Akashic Books, PO Box 1456, New York, NY 10009, akashicbooks.com

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