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The Salt Roads

by Nalo Hopkinson

The Salt Roads, the new novel from Toronto writer Nalo Hopkinson, is a sprawling, ambitious exploration of mythology and history, race and gender. Hopkinson, who is widely respected for her fantasy writing, casts as her main character Ezili, an Afro-Caribbean goddess who is awoken by the mourning of three slave women following a stillbirth. Ezili has no self-awareness, no memories and experiences, and shapes the world by inhabiting three different women.

The main character inhabited by Ezili is Mer, a healer on a plantation on Saint Domingue and one of the slave women whose keening awoke the goddess. Mer is surrounded by a rising chorus of dissent and rebellion among the slaves, precursor to the rebellion that created Haiti. Ezili also inhabits Jeanne Duval, the black former actress who became mistress of poet Charles Baudelaire, and Meritet, a young prostitute in 300 AD who undertakes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The stories of these three women interlock as Ezili rides the salt roads of water, blood, and tears across time and among their consciousnesses.

Despite this broad series of canvases, Hopkinson takes care to maintain an intimate and human scope. The stories of Mer and Duval are compelling, the characters richly drawn against a backdrop historically accurate but crafted with all the tools of good fiction. The story of Meritet is less successful and much shorter than the other two narratives. The reader never comes to know Meritet with the same intimacy as Mer and Duval, and the storyline feels almost like an afterthought, contributing to the novel’s themes without resolving many of the questions the narrative raises.

The Salt Roads is told with a style and execution surprisingly straightforward for such a complex story. Hopkinson largely avoids the potential pitfalls of her intertwining material, creating a powerful, thought-provoking novel.


Reviewer: Robert J. Wiersema

Publisher: Warner Books/H.B. Fenn and Company


Price: $33.95

Page Count: 400 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-446-53302-5

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 2003-12

Categories: Fiction: Novels