Wandeka Gayle, in her debut collection, Motherland: And Other Stories, has built an impressive series of monuments to her Jamaican people that reward the reader with their poignant and piercing revelations. Her characters’ brief but essential moments of human connection provide a road map to healing from profound homesickness, one rooted in a rich and complicated history.
While Gayle’s eye for detail and frailty of human connection captivates, one of the chief enjoyments of Motherland is her rich portrait of Jamaican culture. For those of European descent a banana might just be a banana, but for Jamaicans, a plantain forever haunts the collective unconsciousness. Gayle’s homesick characters find anchor in ackee fruit, soursop, otaheite apples, jackass corn, fried fish, bammy, grizzadas, scotch bonnet pepper sauce, and yabba bowls of fricassee chicken. Jamaican cuisine becomes a sort of recurring character, and I admit all this talk of delicious island food made me hungry.
In short, these stories made for good company as I weathered a gray pandemic February in Ohio. Motherland journeys the reader beyond the carefully paved resort byways, to the twists and turns of less traveled Jamaican roads, where Bob Marley fades into mento and calypso, as Gayle unveils each of her Jamaican monuments. Go there.