Nubian Circle Book Club

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The Salt Roads Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads centers on the spirit, Ezili's (a goddess of love and seduction) emergence in three women throughout time.  The reader gets a glimpse of her in Mer, a lesbian slave woman healer, in the early 1800's on the Caribbean island of St. Domingue (Haiti) during a burial of a stillborn child.  The second appearance is in the 1880's within Jeanne, a mulatto Parisian dancer and mistress to a white poet whose purse strings are controlled by his domineering mother.  The third woman, Meritet, is a prostitute in an ancient (340s A.D.) Egyptian brothel.

Although these women exist during different time periods, Ezili seems to emerge, exist, and influence each woman simultaneously.  With Jeanne, she appears in dreams, and wants to live, act, and breathe through her until Jeanne is physically scarred and disabled from the ravages of a sexually transmitted disease.  Mer receives her awakening during a riverside burial ceremony of a stillborn child and Meritet has an instance of self-awareness that allows her to experience the independence of Ezili.

Aside from the Ezili storyline, each main character has her fair share of drama, heartbreak, and intrigue.   Each are a victim of circumstance; in worlds that were cruel to the black woman.   Mer deals with the harsh reality of plantation life and the impending slave revolt that secured Haiti its freedom from colonial rule.  The author expertly embeds regional history and folklore into Mer's story.  An aging Jeanne struggles with securing her future as a courtesan in a world in which her skin color places her at a disadvantage and Meritet journeys from whoredom to sainthood.  

This book is full of symbolism (the incorporation of the value, taste, and healing power of salt, etc. throughout the novel is superb).  It also has a mystical and esoteric feel to it; the stories are heart wrenching and the characters are memorable.  The author embellished a bit at times with the transcendental themes causing lapses that were very vague and abstract; however for those who enjoy heavy, lyrical prose and surreal themes, it is worth picking up.  Overall, it is a wonderfully imagined story that dabbles with the supernatural and issues of self-worth, survival, and redemption. 

The Nubian Circle Book Club rating for The Salt Roads is 3.5 of 5 stars.  Please contact us at: for comments or questions.