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Chameleon and Other Stories

Authors: Jane Bryce

Published by Peepal Tree Press

ISBN: 9781845230418

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When a young white child growing up in Tanzania discovers why her family’s African gardener so dislikes the chameleon she spots in a tree, she is plunged into a puzzled awareness of the complexities of race, colour and difference.

As the ‘I’ of the stories grows into adulthood in Nigeria, she too becomes a chameleon of sorts, one thing when she is with her Nigerian friends, another with the white tribe when she can no longer resist the lure of the scarce luxuries to be had at the British embassy. When the ‘I’ makes the crossing from Nigeria to the Caribbean, she discovers that it is not only people who are chameleons. Osun, the Yoruba orisha has also made the journey, a little outwardly changed, but inwardly the same in Trinidadian and Cuban manifestations.

In the earlier stories, the ‘I’ has a childhood innocence that, in the comment of the distinguished poet UA Fanthorpe, ‘sees all the better for not understanding’. With increasing awareness comes a sense of being an outsider in almost all situations, though in playing mas’ in the Trinidad carnival, there is a glimpse of the transcendence of belonging to the collective. Whether as the child trying to understand her parents, their Muslim servant’s sense of the sacred, or the ‘incomprehensible prohibitions’ of a colonial childhood, there is a constant tension between the sense of separateness and the desire for belonging. And though each of the stories is a first person narrative, what stands out in Bryce’s careful, elegant writing is a very concrete sense of the reality and autonomy of other voices, other views.

Jane Bryce was born in what is now Tanzania. She currently teaches at UWI in Barbados.
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