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Kiskadee Girl Paperback – 1 Aug. 2011

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One of the great achievements of Kiskadee Girl - and there are many - is that it sustains a vital energy from first to last page. It is there in the speech of the people of Guyana as Maggie Harris re-creates it in this autobiographical memoir of her childhood and teenage years. It is there in her naturally figurative imagination which sees 'shame' as a 'traveller' and church-goers as a 'scatter of butterflies' and 'Book' as her living companion, to take only three examples. It is there in the shifting viewpoints she adopts as she tells her story, one moment narrating her life-story, the next addressing her Daddy or confiding in the reader or invoking 'Book'. Unfamiliar terms and beliefs - jumbie, dounze tree, go on the lime, that sorceresses are born with the caul, the power of subtle racial gradations - mingle with the familiar concerns of any child growing up. Schoolyard rhymes, remembered conversations, fragments of song lyrics, poetry, school reports, diary entries, the voices of family and neighbours, preachers and teachers, all combine to realise a past world of Guyana in the 1950s and 60s. It is a magical world where there are dreamtime visitors and premonitions of death and the mysteriously lingering smell of funeral flowers in the home. At the same time, it is an authentically recalled world of harsh realities and tender joys, as Maggie Harris imaginatively re-occupies the mind and heart and sensations of the Guyanese Potagee girl that she was. --Derek Sellen, author and poet

The kiskadee is a colorful tropical bird so named for its beautiful, arresting sing-song whistle. So sweetly it sings its kis-ka-dee, kis-ka-dee tune that it plays with the senses...

As the Kiskadee Girl, Maggie Harris is a voyageur in the post-colonial Guyana the land of many waters. Like the bird that she aptly names her book, she flits through her coming of age in a lyrical fashion, immersing the reader in a narrative scattered with references and words that are so Caribbean: - You dare not eyeball an adult, walk far girl,, potagee, suck teeth and betterment - no reader will get lost though as she conscientiously explains the meaning of these words throughout.

In her childhood years, she recounts her happy days with her father, a river man, as she traverses the Berbice River which parallels New Amsterdam, her hometown. Not quite an adolescent, she bravely crosses over this river when she had to leave her nest to attend a prestigious school in Georgetown, the big city so far away. As a misfit, her loneliness, homesickness and exposure to snootiness from the town girls pull at the heartstrings. Forced to return home to her nesting grounds, she reconciles with her old friends only to witness the same snootiness being dished out on a shy Hindu girl who could barely speak English. She handled this in a very kiskadee manner - pairing off and cocooning with the misfit - the heartstrings slacken.

In the transition from childhood to adolescence to womanhood, she steps back in time with ease. She questions, ponders, wonders and worries. Relationship with church, God, and Jesus are questioned. She ponders on her puppy love for the boys of different ethnicities, the shades of color of the people around her. She wonders at her Scottish, African, Portuguese and Amerindian heritage. She worries about politics, which like a volcano waiting to erupt, lurks with the ole higues, jumbies and ghosts and hold their place tightly as this young lady makes us reminiscence with songs of the late sixties and early seventies.

When another riverman steals her heart, Kis-ka-dee Girl Maggie sings at her happiness, but with betterment imbued in her brain, this walk far girl must spread her wings to find another nesting ground. England calls to her from afar. Once again she crosses the river and nostalgically waves adieu to her country, her Guyana from the window of an airplane. What a poignant journey Maggie Harris! I crave more.

The Kis-ka dee Girl plays on your senses... she touches you as she frees the ghost of her father from a conch shell, feel sadness at her homesickness, smell the perfume of the hibiscus and oleander flowers, hear her whisper to her lover, see her as she spread her wings in flight, and you fly with her as she soars higher and higher. --Devi di Guida, linguist, Montreal

About the Author

Maggie Harris lectures on international writing in schools and at Southampton University. In 2008 she was a winner in the prestigious KUP life-writing prize and her previous publications include Limbolands (Mango Publishing), which won the Guyana Prize for Literature 2000. She edited Sixty Poems for Haiti (Cane Arrow Press) and her poems and short stories have appeared in journals such as Poetry Wales, Wasafiri and Agenda, and in anthologies published by Virago and LittleBrown.

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5.0 out of 5 stars The narrator was excellent
Reviewed in Canada on 6 June 2019
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