I am on a never-ending journey to expand my reading horizon, and books from the Caribbean are certainly not the first choice to read in my “reading bubble”. That’s why I enjoy following the recommendations of Cindy from Book of Cinz, who raises awareness about Caribbean books. She also organizes a monthly book club centered around stories set in the Caribbean islands.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House was the March pick of Cindy’s book club, and the book was also shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021. Having heard of the book from these 2 sources I was very eager to read the story written by Cherie Jones.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House in a nutshell
The book tells the story of Lala, a young woman from Barbados. Her life is far from being a happy one, marked by poverty, violence, and psychological trauma. As if in a mirror, we find out about Mira’s life – also a local woman, but she married a rich (former tourist) businessman.
The story is a difficult and emotional read, as it illustrates how harsh life can be even in places that foreigners consider Paradise. It is also a story about how much one’s development is impacted by the environment and the childhood experiences.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a beautiful novel! Yes, it is sad and there are many violent acts illustrated in the story, but the narrative style and the different perspectives make is a very captivating read.
The chapters present alternating perspectives, so the reader gets pieces of the puzzle that in the end form a terrifying and unforgettable picture.
Why this title?
In case you wondered what’s the meaning of the title, you’re not alone! I was also intrigued by the unusual name, and I might have an answer.
First of all, the book starts with a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers – they might even lose one arm. But once this warning story is told, there’s no other direct reference to it. Even after finishing the book I wondered how the title of the book relates to Lala’s story.
I found my answer from a fellow blogger – Laura. In her review of the book, Laura says that losing one arm is a metaphor for living with a major wound / trauma: “How do you carry on living when you have been so wounded by the world around you? How does the one-armed sister sweep her house?“.
Violence against women in the Caribbean
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House tackles a topic that is so real and contemporary – violence against women in the Caribbean. According to UN Women Caribbean, 1 in 3 women in the Caribbean will experience domestic violence (ISPAC) … Imagine that in a group of 3 friends, at least one of them will be victim of domestic aggression!
To make things worse, there is also a culture of silence regarding this problem. The statistics do not present the full picture of the gender-based violence, as many women do not report it to the police. In a study from 2008 it was found that 70% of the ∼3.500 respondents from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were victims of violence perpetrated by a relationship partner (E Le Franc et. al, 2008). While How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a fiction book, the lives of the characters unfortunately have at least a grain of truth.
Bernardine Evaristo characterized this story as “hard-hitting and unflinching”, and I can only agree with her. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a captivating read, but one I would not recommend for the faint-hearted!
Did you read any stories set in the Caribbean? Let me know!
‘Till next time … happy reading!