Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
Paama, who is a great cook, has returned to her family after 10 years of marriage to the gluttonous Ansige, but two years later he hires the master tracker Kwame to find her. Kwame needs the money to finance his own wanderlust and reluctantly takes the job. These events draw the attention of Chance, the Indigo Lord, one of the powerful spirits called Djombi. The Indigo Lord once wielded the power of Chaos, imbued within the Chaos Stick, but to punish him it was taken from him and given to Paama. Now he wants it back, and he has all sorts of elaborate schemes planned to induce Paama to give him back the Chaos Stick.
As soon as I saw the cover for Redemption in Indigo I knew I had to read it! The story sounds a little weird and unusual, I have to admit, and I knew I would probably either love it or hate it. But love it, I did!
Inspired by Senegalese folk tales, Barbadian author Karen Lord has managed to create something unlike anything I have ever read before. The narrative is deceptively simple, like a breath of fresh air, making it extremely readable but not without meaning. You can almost hear the beat of African drums as the rhythm of the prose reverberates through your mind, and you will almost wish that you were listening to someone reading it aloud, the way folk tales are meant to be told.
Paama is trying to escape her gluttonous husband, Ansige, who has an insatiable appetite. He drives Paama away, in spite of her passion for cooking. Paama eventually meets the djombi, a kind of spirit, who entrust her with the Chaos Stick which will give her the power of chaos. But the Indigo Lord is also seeking the stick and he has a few lessons to teach Paama.
Redemption in Indigo is shaped around the typical folk tale trope of the trickster figure, in this case a spider. The image of a spider, drinking in a bar, and talking to you, may be hard to believe but you really do need to let go of yourself and give into this wonderful world Lord has created. If you don’t, or you feel you can’t do so, then this novel probably isn’t for you. But Paama is the real joy of the book – a strong woman who just wants to live out her life as she pleases. She doesn’t want the power of chaos and it takes her a while to truly understand what it is. There are several morals to be learnt throughout, as is traditional in folk tales, but the reader is never bombarded with them, and the morals are not quite so simple and clean-cut in comparison to those we learn as children.
If I could criticise this novel in any way, I would say at times it feels a little too long. Folk tales and fairy tales have always been traditionally short, and I think there is probably a reason for this. I would also have to say that I have next to no knowledge of Senegalese folk tales or African folk tales and I feel that some of the meaning behind this novel may have been a little lost on me. It certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it, but maybe I could have got a little bit more out of it if I did have some prior knowledge.
Redemption in Indigo is a wonderfully imaginative and literary work that I took great pleasure in reading. I found myself looking forward to it more and more each time I picked it up. It’s very easy to see why this won the Frank Collymore Literary Award, and also great to see something so different get such recognition. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for pure escapism. This is a book bursting with humour and heart, and it certainly marks Karen Lord as a fresh new voice in contemporary fiction. I look forward to seeing what she writes next!
Redemption in Indigo is out now, published by Jo Fletcher Books. A huge thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.