On Our Radar – OCT 2023

Pay As You Go by Eskor David Johnson
(McSweeney’s, ISBN 9781952119743, 500pp)

From the opening lines of this audacious debut novel, readers will immediately invest more attention to a sensational new voice, a voice which has already been described by T.C. Boyle as “magnetic… sly, witty, musical – an Augie March for a new time and a new place”. Our investment yields dividends. “It’s like the sky’s never blue when I look out any of these windows—they’re filtering out all the hope,” Slide, the book’s dream-addled barber protagonist, laments at the start of this rollicking, picaresque narrative that brings to mind not only Saul Bellow but also V.S. Naipaul’s Mohun Biswas and Miguel Street. But here, Eskor David Johnson, a writer from Trinidad and Tobago and the US, writes with his own boldness, verve, and panache, giving us characters, stories and settings that betray a talented eye for detail as he audits what it means to be at home in the 21st century. The audit is largely, unqualifyingly bleak: “The sky was so dark I couldn’t see its clouds. The earth was so dark I couldn’t see its shadows.” Still, Pay As You Go is worth its weight in gold. A graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was the recipient of the Richard Yates Short Story Prize, the Maytag Fellowship and the Teaching-Writing Fellowship, Johnson currently lives in New York City. Look out for an extended, in-depth review of his book by novelist Breanne Mc Ivor in our upcoming November issue.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffrey
(Picador, ISBN 9781250872210, 273pp)

This truly stunning work follows the fate of the men in an American family that has has ties to Jamaica. At one point, however, the mother figure of the central character resiles and returns to Jamaica. When she is asked by her son why, she says: “Look how long me spent taking care of men. Your father. You boys. Who has ever taken care of me?” With this succinct brushstroke, Escoffrey — rightly shortlisted for the Booker Prize for this incredibly impactful work — has given us a portrait of the pigeonhole into which a mother had been placed and, by implication, the overbearingness of the space held by the men in this family. But if it is an overbearingly male space, it is is also a perilous one for sons and fathers; a space perhaps presided over by the spirit of the Biblical story of Isaac merged with the bloodletting of Cain and Abel. You will survive, but you will not be able to leave this behind.

Ocean Stirrings by Merle Collins
(Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 9781845235529, 440pp)

Did you know that the mother of the African American revolutionary, Malcolm X, was a Grenadian woman born at the turn of the 20th century? If not, this is probably because so little is recorded about Louise Langdon Norton Little’s life. That neglect and lack of archival documentation has ironically empowered Grenadian writer Merle Collins to forge this loving reclamation which is a work of fiction written in tribute to Little. “From the hills of La Digue they can look down at the ocean, talking secrets to the sands, shoo-shooing, playful, intimate, running up and easing back, down there near La Baye, the town that is theirs,” it begins. What is ours is the regenerative sense of possibilities opened by this book which teaches us to correct the deficiencies of the archive through the use of the imagination; to speculate against the official record in order to bring to the surface the currents within all of us.

–Andre Bagoo, Managing Editor


Look out for full-length reviews of most if not all of these newly-published titles in upcoming issues of Moko. If you would like to review any of them, or wish to suggest a title for review by us, leave a note in the comments section below.  

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