Kiskadee Girl Paperback – 1 Aug. 2011
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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
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The transfer from poetry to prose for Maggie Harris is a great success. The discipline of crafting every line in a poem has benefitted her prose; every sentence is rhythmical and stimulates the senses:
"From Water Street to the Botanical Gardens, a green oasis from the blaze of the sun, a respite from the clatter of vehicles and blasts of car horns."
The pages are full of colours, sounds and smells that bring to life the family home, the country and the memories of a significant period of time for Maggie as she develops her independence and her poetic voice and British Guiana as it transforms to become independent Guyana.
I love that the author made such good use of the Guyanese dialect. I admire the way she tells the story in the most romantic and poetic way possible. I encourage everyone who's Guyanese and who isn't, to read this book. It's something I will be thinking of for a long time.
This is the exciting midlife autobiography of a brilliant but all-too often under-rated poet, Maggie Harris. Born in what was then British Guiana, of a black father and white mother, she re-settled in Kent in 1971; her memoir reflects the turbulent history of her native country, and her own struggle for independence as a woman and recognition as a poet. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and her collections include " Limbolands," "From Berbice to Broadstairs", and "After a Visit to a Botanical Garden." Maggie also organised a Literature Festival in Broadstairs in 2002/3. She currently lectures on international writing at Southampton University.