Redemption In Indigo
Karen Lord hails from Barbados, and her novel, Redemption in Indigo, is inspired by African folklore. I was born in Africa, and raised on similar stories—the trickster spider Anansi is only the beginning of this genre. I had not heard of Paama before, and I love novelizations of fairy tales and children’s stories, so I was looking forward to Redemption in Indigo.
The original tale of Paama is about her relationship with her gluttonous husband, whom she ultimately throws off. The first few chapters are a retelling, with a few instances of foreshadowing for the rest of the novel. It isn’t until her husband has been driven off that the story really gets going. The djombi, undying spirits/demons who toy with humans, gift Paama with a tool, the Chaos Stick. This small but mighty instrument grants her the power of chaos itself—and the ability to choose an outcome from infinite potential outcomes.
But the djombi are playing with her. The powers of the stick actually belong to Lord Indigo, a djombi who has lost his faith in humanity. He is supposed to use his powers to aid and teach humans, but he has become apathetic and condescending. He is the antithesis of Paama, who is kind and generous to a fault.
Rather than an epic battle, Lord Indigo opts to prove that his point of view is valid by showing Paama example after example of human failings. He whisks her across the globe, and at each stop she finds herself tested. Should she use the Chaos Stick to alter what she sees? How would life be different if she did? Her good, giving nature sways the djombi, shifting the balance of power among the otherwordly beings.
Although it was wonderful to sink back into the familiar embrace of African storytelling, with all its tropes, pacing, and repetition, I found the overall structure of the book to be lacking. The first few chapters seemed to go on forever, and were almost entirely unrelated to the rest of the book, which now makes sense after reading a statement from Lord on writer John Scalzi’s blog. Though she talks about the importance of editing, she and her editors failed to excise dozens of pages that were essentially unnecessary and left me cold.
The real meat of the story is Paama’s interaction with Indigo, but a disproportionately small amount of time is spent on it. Lord continuously jumps away from them to follow up on an unusually large cast of characters who do not deserve so much time. Lord does not delve into her character’s inner workings. The narrative remains distant and omniscient, giving only observational insight into how characters think and feel. The shift in the lead pair’s dynamic happens on a level the reader isn’t invited to share in. We have to trust that it is happening, and wind up feeling unsatisfied when the narrative declares that all is now well.
A more patient reader may enjoy the off-kilter pacing, but I cannot. Lord’s novella would benefit from the input of editors and readers who require her to go deeper into her characters, and encourage her to have confidence in what she is doing right.