Masterfully woven perspectives.
Rich tropical scenery.
A tragedy that'll live with you forever.
HOW THE ONE-ARMED SISTER SWEEPS HER HOUSE by Cherie Jones is heartbreaking, gripping book that’ll sit with me for quite awhile. Jones makes judicious use of a tapestry of characters woven throughout her book that unravel the realities of how race, class, and gender intersect, all set in the gloriously vivid ‘Paradise’ of a fictional beach town set in 1980s Barbados.
This sweeping novel opens with a grandmother relaying a cautionary tale to her grandchild, the book’s tragic protagonist Lala. But unlike most children who might have been frightened by their grandmother’s tale of a girl who lost her arm because of her rebelliousness, Lala is the sort of girl determined to find flaw with the story being told. In fact, what made me fall in love with Lala and hurt for the experiences she faces throughout the book is because she tells her grandmother that even with losing an arm, one can still find a way to live their life. This determination Lala carries through her life to explore the dark places she’s been warned against her whole life is what lands Lala in the predicament that makes up the real story of the book.
The real story of HOW THE ONE-ARMED SISTER SWEEPS HER HOUSE revolves around an adult Lala, who works as a braider on the beach and has married her abusive lover, Adan. When we meet this version of Lala, she’s pregnant with Adan’s child and desperately wishing for Adan to become the man she had hoped she was escaping into the arms of. Adan‘s all charm, but ekes out a less than survivable living through petty crime. This all sets the stage for a later tragedy in the book that honestly made me burst into tears. Jones writes Lala with such tenderness, in deep contrast to a world that asks a strength from her that she doesn’t have. Lala’s caught in the generational curse that strikes the women in her family — bad men are drawn to them, and these bad men hurt the women they‘re with or kill them. Lala’s curse is in the shape of Adan, and we discover how the other women in Lala’s family have dealt with their own curses through Jones spectacular use of shifting POVs.
Each chapter is written from the voice of someone who’s somehow had a hand in shaping who Lala is or the situation she finds herself in after the birth of her child. Jones leaves no stone unturned in the world our cast of characters ironically refer to as a ‘Paradise’ and exposes the underbelly of a society that relies on wealthy tourists and has left its local citizens to exist in poverty and desperation. The locals are caught in the cycle of poverty that leads unscrupulous men to crime and delivers women into the hands of those men who do not value them as equals or even as real human beings. Each character Jones lets us peek inside the head of reveals how gender, race, and class have trapped them in terrible cycles that seemingly have no escape. That said, there is light at the end of this very heavy book and some curses are finally, finally broken. HOW THE ONE-ARMED SISTER SWEEPS HER HOUSE by Cherie Jones is a heavy read, but a poignant one I‘d recommend to anyone looking for a unique island drama that will have you evaluating the generational traumas you might have to break in your own life.
TW: This book has a lot of material that may be traumatic for some readers including the death of an infant, domestic abuse, physical violence, and sexual assault.