The mermaid of Black Conch

Monique Roffey

Book - 2020

"The Mermaid of Black Conch spins the enchanting tale of a cursed mythical creature and the lonely fisherman who falls in love with her"--

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Fantasy fiction
Romance fiction
New York : Alfred A. Knopf [2020]
Main Author
Monique Roffey (author)
First American Edition
Physical Description
228 pages ; 22 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

The mermaid is drawn to the surface by David Baptiste's guitar. She's been making her lonely way through the ocean for 1,000 years, ever since she was transformed by a curse and exiled from her island with an old woman who was turned into a turtle for speaking uncomfortable truths. The young fisherman treats her gently, but in April 1976, a father and son from Florida come to the Caribbean island of Black Conch for a fishing competition. Instead of a marlin, they reel in the mermaid. David steals her away from the greedy and lustful fishermen, bringing her back to his home, where slowly she sheds her scales and becomes a woman again. As she learns to walk and talk, befriends a local boy who speaks sign language, and begins to wonder what it would be like to be with David, the island community's suspicions about this mystery woman grow. Achingly evocative, the Black Conch mermaid's story and the people she meets after her return from the sea powerfully capture the nature of longing and belonging.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Roffey (The Tryst) spins a vivid phantasmagorical fairy tale based on a pre-Columbian Taino legend. In 1976, a white Floridian banker and his son take a fishing expedition off a fictional Caribbean island called Black Conch. Instead of a marlin, they hook a mermaid with Indigenous complexion and tattoos. The father imagines selling her to a museum or to Sea World. David Baptiste, a dreadlocked local fisherman who has previously serenaded the inquisitive creature, looks on in horror as the men stick her with a gaffing hook and knock her unconscious. That night, David cuts her bonds and takes her to his home. He means to return her to the sea as soon as possible, but while she is lying in salt water in David's bathtub, she transforms into a young woman and the two become lovers. It turns out the mermaid, whose name is Aycayia, is not only in danger of being returned to the Americans by the authorities, but is subjected to a 1,000-year-old curse. As Aycayia acclimates to life on land and she and David fall in love, the pair must navigate a host of perils and determine if there's a future for Aycayia outside the sea--and, if so, what it would be. With a lilting patois and rollicking prose, Roffey evokes the Antillean settings, characters, and culture. This makes for an entrancing siren song. (July)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Literary author Roffey's Costa Book of the Year Award winner is a feminist retelling of an old Taino myth BISACed as Fairy Tales/Romance/Historical Fiction and amplified by a condemnation of colonization in the Caribbean. In the 1970s, David is fishing off the island of Black Conch when he rescues a mermaid netted by some raucous tourists from the States. Actually, she's a beautiful young Taino woman named Aycayia who was cursed centuries ago by envious wives to take the form of a sea creature. As she comes to live with David, who falls in love with her, she takes on human form and begins relearning human ways while bearing witness to the devastation wrought by empire.

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

In this Costa Award--winning novel, the discovery of a mermaid makes waves on a fictional Caribbean island. In 1976, during an annual fishing competition in the waters off Black Conch, a creature is hauled aboard a whaler called Dauntless. The boat is owned by a White father-and-son duo who have come from Florida to take part in the competition. David Baptiste, a local Black fisherman, is the only one who knows that a strange creature lurks in the water, so when she's strung up on the jetty and left to bleed out by the astonished but proud Americans, it's Baptiste who performs a stealthy rescue. In his saltwater-filled bathtub, the mermaid begins transforming back into a woman. Over time, Baptiste learns her story: Belonging to the Indigenous Taino people, the mermaid, Aycayia, was once a woman who was cursed to her fate by other women in her village. As she relearns human life, taught to read by Baptiste's White landlady, Arcadia Rain, and befriended by Arcadia's young Deaf son, Aycayia wonders whether, through her millennialong exile in the sea, she has managed to shake off her curse and connect again to the land of her people. Told through journal entries written by Baptiste decades after the events, verse snippets from Aycayia, and omniscient narration swirling through a core group of characters, the mermaid's melancholy tale is a clear colonial allegory, the story of an island nation and its history of Indigenous people vanishing, slavery, European domination, and independence, with an uneasy and watchful present relationship between the White and Black islanders. These relationships, especially, are keenly observed and wrought: Roffey herself was born in Trinidad to a British father and a European mother who was born in Egypt, and she identifies as binational and White Creole. A mournful tour through Caribbean history via one of its most indelible legends. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

3 Back on Land David Baptiste's journal, April 2015 Well, when I saw her hanging upside down, like reverse cruci-fied, my heart stop and my blood run cold cold cold. So, they ketch her. My worse fear. I kept up with their boat for an hour or so, but left before they hook her good. They were heading far out. I turn back; I already had a bad feeling in my gut that my boat engine might lure her to them. So I turn back, but too late. My damn fault they pull her out of the sea, bring she back half-dead. I figure she was dead when I saw her hanging so, upside down, mouth and hands tie up, just like a crab ready for the market. I feel shame, man, to see her like that, and I figured quick quick how to cut her down. I was fraid something bad go happen otherwise. Men could get on bad in these parts with too much alcohol, with a thing like this. Miss Rain wouldn't like it at all. I knew that. She was very particular about women and how they get treated. fetch a wheelbarrow from my neighbour's yard and put it in the back of my pickup truck and drive down quiet and slow. Ce-Ce's parlour pack up with fellers liming and drinking and I drove past, recognising half of them. Was lucky that rain coming down. It kept them inside. I drove to the end of the jetty and see her there, hanging next to the big marlin. I think about all the times I saw her in the sea by the rocks off Murder Bay, watching me. All the times we stare each other down. All them times I wonder how God made her and why. The amount of times I say, "Come, dou dou, come, nuh." I hurried fast down the jetty with the wheelbarrow and my cutlass. Rain coming down even harder then. Her body look cold and dull under the jetty light. Her eyes were closed. But I see her chest rise and fall. I put the barrow under her and with two hard blows to the rope she fell down, half into the barrow. She slump heavy heavy, like a big snake. I knew I had only a few minutes to carry she away. I covered her with a tarp and wheel her to my truck. It was a struggle-- taking all my strength to shoulder her fast into the tray. When I reach home, I bring the hose inside the house and I empty the bathtub of what it have: old boat engine, boat parts, all kind of thing get pelt in there. At the time I would shower with a bucket out back. Same house I still live in now. I build it myself thirty years back, on land Miss Rain say I could buy from her over time. I build the place from wood and concrete that I beg and borrow-- that kind of thing, bits and pieces left over from houses my cousins build. Back then, it already have two floors, and a place to cook on a small two-gas burner stove. It have one table, two chairs, one big bed upstairs. No electricity. I used hurricane lamps at night. The tub wasn't even plumbed in. I found it in another person's yard. I figure I could use it one day, and I was right. Of course, Rosamund came and blew most of the house away that year. Little by little, I build it back. I full the tub to the brim. I emptied one whole box of Saxa salt into it. Only then I start to panic. When I freed the mer-maid from the jetty she was still alive. I only had one thing on my mind: to keep her alive overnight. Only God knew what them Yankee men would do with her, sell her to a museum, or worse, Sea World. I wanted to put her back in the sea. I knew I couldn't get her into my boat that same night. I would need help. She was too heavy for me to carry alone from home and then to my boat. First things first. Cut her down. Then I planned to take her in my boat the next night, take her far far out and put her back; I would ask Nicer to help me. Carry she back to the sea, set her free again. I never figure she might stay. All of that was to come. When I first bring she back I ketch my ass just to get her from the tray of the truck into the tub. She was waking up too, in the rain, and I was frighten she might start to beat up. I carry she like an old roll-up piece of carpet, over one shoul-der, and put her in the tub. Then she startled and realise what going on. Her mouth was still gagged and her hands tied up, too, behind her back, but her eyes flew open wide and she start to make loud squawking noises. I put my hand to her mouth and say, "Hush, dou dou. Hush, nuh. Is me, is me, you safe. Safe. Hush." But she frighten real bad. It took me the rest of the night and half the next day to settle her down in that tub and I didn't untie her hands or mouth till well into the next afternoon, and only when I figured she knew who I was, the rasta man with the guitar who tempted her up from the waves, the one who sang the hymns to the universe. Eventually, I untied her mouth and she didn't squawk. "Remember me?" I say. But she made no sign she knew me at all. She just drink the water from the tub and lay down low as if she hiding sheself, even though her tail poke out. She watched me the whole day. Like we'd never met. I was unsure of myself, but I knew I'd have to get her back in the sea. The next day, I untied her hands and still she just lay there flat, flat in the tub, watching me, and I wonder what the hell she was thinking about. Already, I see she tail drying up and she was looking smaller. I poured some rum on a deep wound from the gaff hook near the top of her tail, hoping it would heal up. Excerpted from The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Novel by Monique Roffey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.