Book Review: Frying Plantains

If you have ever been lucky enough have tried fried plantains, soft, sweet, melt in your mouth and oh so addictive…then this book is perfectly named. It’s such a page turner, with quick witty anecdotes, weaving you through downtown Toronto, mixing food, sights, sounds and culture all so effortlessly. It made me smile, it made me scratch my head, it made me scowl; but most of all it made me proud. Proud to be Canadian, proud to be Grenadian, proud to have such an interesting and rich culture that I often take for granted and don’t celebrate enough. Zalika Reid-Benta has created a gem of a book, it did a lot of things to me, but most of all it simply made me PROUD. Read along to dig deeper into our thoughts on Frying Plantains.

Synopsis:

The book is not really a novel, but more like a collection of anecdotes between Zara Davis, her mother Eloise, her grandmother Verma and her grandfather George. The adult women have hugely unresolved issues with Kara, whom they deem as overly sensitive, stuck in between them. Both their desires to not show their vulnerability and find common ground forces Kara to manage the peace between the two of them. The anecdotes weave itself through areas of downtown Toronto with such descriptive ease I felt like I knew the areas she was referring to.

main characters:

Kara: Granddaughter
Eloise: Mother
Verma: Grandmother
George: Grandfather

Break it Down:

Let’s face it, unless you have a Caribbean mother or grandmother- I’m not sure how much you’ll be able to relate to this book, but I’d be interested. The dialogue, the very descriptive way in which Zalika Reid-Benta writes how her Verma speaks- is pretty much our mother. The quotes, the way she “runs” her house with an iron fist, her sharp tongue and her inability to literally relax. The sayings, the reverence Sundays contain, the plastic on the couch, the constant cleaning, the world war that would ensue at the slightest sign of dirt…I literally read this as if it was a reflection of my life. Much like how I could relate to Candice Carty-William’s Queenie, this book was such a breath of fresh air. Another reason why diverse books are so so important, being able to read about characters which relate to you or reflect your life, how you grew up and what shaped you is life changing.

Eloise falls pregnant with Kara at the age of 17 and this is the source of tension between Verma and her for years, despite the fact that she’s studying and working and attempting to keep a roof over Kara’s head- nothing is enough for Verma. Kara is a good kid, she is well mannered, she has good grades and realistically she’s not caused much trouble for her family, but her mother doesn’t get any credit for that. I found it interesting the way in which the author chose to not focus too much on Eloise’s successes as a single mother, the spotlight was really on Verma and her inability to give praise or vocalize her love for both of them. She showed her love through food, always insisting they’ve both eaten and sending them off with food. (again, our mother-🤣 ). The author’s ability to tap into the complexities of trying to balance being a Canadian with West Indian grandparents or strong Caribbean influences, but also the way people see you if you don’t “act” Caribbean enough. The fact that her mother wanted to be and do better than she did, and Kara’s lack of a rebellious streak, but how that came across as acting like she was better than the people she grew up with. This hit home for me, because I have struggled with relating to my community much like Kara, but also existing in a White world as a Black person and also balancing being Black within the Black community.

The way in which the author chose to show Kara’s developing maturity through the ways in which she understands some of their behaviours, but also feeling so confident to say how she’s feeling, was so refreshing, Kara goes from being a scared, unconfident child, unsure of where she fit in, to a more self-assured young woman. Kara’s inability to be able to cut you with her words like any typical Caribbean mother could and her constant need to apologize was so typically Canadian and such an interesting way so showing just how “stuck” she felt growing up with the contrast of both important forces in her life. She struggles to understand the relationship between her grandmother and her philandering grandfather, unable to grasp why her grandmother who I saw as such a force- remains with a man who chooses to disrespect her so consistently. I suppose the part I couldn’t quite grasp was the amount of anger Verma had for her daughter and the ease she appeared to be able to kick her out, yet she didn’t seem to have any of that for her cheating husband who essentially constantly used her. But what’s also so truly West Indian, is the generational gap between Kara and her grandmother; whereas most Canadian grandparents would have probably attempted to have a heart to heart when questioned about remaining in an unhealthy relationship, Caribbean grandparents will simply chastise you and tell you to mind your business or that you don’t know it all. Shut down. Subject over- and that’s if you were brave enough to even broach the subject in the first place. Lol. I literally remember having a similar conversation with my grandmother- it was a no go, I was met with a deep kissing of the teeth and a mind your damn business..🤣

Negatives?:

Not really, but I suppose if I had to choose, it would be the fact that it had no definitive end to the book, but it’s not something that’s offensive. It’s almost like letting out a sigh…a slow release of air.

Would I recommend the book?:

100%, not only is this book vital for the Black community, particularly Black Canadians- it’s also not topics which are commonly discussed within literature. The intersectionality of navigating Canadian life, being Black, and finding your place within the two is something that’s very different to Black Americans and we should seek out more books which bring(s) voices to these narratives. Loved this book, I flipped through it in 2 days and that’s mostly because I forced myself to put it down in order to digest certain sections. Get yourself a copy now and help support not only Black writers and Black stories, but also Canadian ones.

The RnR Rating:

4.5/5 stars

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