Book it

‘Mermaid of Black Conch’ melds history and magic

“The Mermaid of Black Conch” by Monique Roffey (Knopf)

David is a fisherman and Aycayia is a mermaid. It’s pretty obvious where the story goes from here: David falls for Aycayia. But author Monique Roffey isn’t giving us an endearing tale of love — this is a story of duality and curses.

“The Mermaid of the Black Conch” is a uniquely Caribbean novel with all the hallmarks of the genre presented in different manners. Roffey moves between a general narrator, David’s thickly Caribbean journal entries and broken stanzas of Aycayia’s free-form poetry.

Insidiously, David and Aycayia’s first meeting in 1976 is in Murder Bay. David is smitten by her strange beauty and Aycayia by his music. 

David ceases fishing for fear of her entanglement in his nets, but his efforts backfire when Aycayia follows the sound of his motor out to a fishing competition and is ensnared by two Yankee men, intent on a stunning victory, which, it turns out, is the mermaid.

Upon learning of her capture, David plans to rescue Aycayia and return her to the sea. But his scheme falls apart when she begins to change back into a woman, the curse put on her by other jealous women from her Taino tribe apparently lifting after some 1,000 years.

When Aycayia is inadvertently introduced to Reggie, the only deaf person on the island, they form a deep, fast bond on the basis of their otherness in Black Conch society. The mermaid metaphor is applied to gender, disability and oppression throughout the book. They’re filed under “curse,” described as loneliness.

Vivid imagery, discussion-worthy themes, Creole verbiage and a melding of history and magic make “The Mermaid of the Black Conch” come to life. It’s a confluence of lore in which subtle details change depending on who is telling the story. Each has their own idea of what it is to be a man, a woman, the oppressor, the oppressed, or something in between worlds.


Categories Book It Extra Times