27 Nov

Nothing’s Mat

Nothing’s Mat
Author:
Genre: Fantasy
Tag: Jamaica
Nothing’s Mat is Erna Brodber’s latest offering in a body of work whose trajectory probes and heals the psychosocial and emotional legacy of slavery and colonialism. The scope of this new short novel is dazzling; it not only includes many of the themes of Brodber’s earlier fiction and nonfiction but also expands her focus to the Jamaican diaspora and to European and African indentureship. Like her previous novels, the structure on first reading is tricky, as it moves about in time, facilitates a multivocal narration, and includes many magical and spiritual elements. - Rebecca Romdhani, SX Salon
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About the Book

Nothing’s Mat is told by a black British teenager – “every black girl” – for she has no name until the very last chapters when she is teasingly called “Princess” by her husband. Somewhere in the 1950s London-based Princess is allowed to complete her sixthform final exams by writing a long paper on the West Indian family instead of sitting an exam. She thinks this a godsend and that all she has to do is to interview her parents. Her father tries to help her with his side but they both find that their kin will not fit into the standard anthropological template. Her father thinks it a good time for her to go to Jamaica and meet her grandparents, who can better help her with her study.

In Jamaica, much as her middle-class black Jamaican grandparents and her parents in England might not have liked it, Princess meets and spends time with her obscure cousin Nothing, called Conut. Conut introduces Princess to a plant that obeys certain divine principles and is available to humans to make artefacts for their comfort. Accordingly, they begin to make a mat and as they twist straw and bend it into intricate shapes, Conut tells her the family history so that their creation becomes for her a mat of anthropological template. The resulting shape presented to her teacher earns her an A and the comment that she has managed to project the West Indian family as a fractal rather than fractured as the published literature sees it.

Her studies and subsequent academic career take her to London University and then back to Jamaica, but understimulated by the academy, she chooses to continue the family study from high school and to do so by crafting the information into the mat, which becomes for her a shield against spiritual and physical evil. Making the mat of ancestors takes her into myriad histories of young Englishmen in Jamaica, of Jamaican women in Panama, and of African Americans in Virginia, among others.

This work is at once a fictional family history and a comment on anthropological methodology and African systems of thought.

About the Author
Erna Brodber

Dr Erna Brodber has emerged as one of the leading contemporary writers from the Commonwealth Caribbean. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Order of Distinction, Commander Class from Jamaica, the D.Litt. from the UWI Mona and the Musgrave Gold Medal for Literature and Orature from the Institute of Jamaica. In 2017, she was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for her fiction.

Her sociological research has focused on social history and biography, the study of inner-city communities and the respective roles of race, gender, culture and class in Caribbean society.

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