[A] superb, and superbly written, novel of childhood and childhood's end. . . . Kempadoo writes in a rich creole, filling her story with kaleidoscopic images of Guyana's coastal plains. . . . Her story is also one of sexual awakening, and she explores these new feelings with a curiosity and freedom that are refreshing. . . . Kempadoo's novel, like the Buxton Spice mango tree, reveals its secrets, private and political, only sparingly until the bitter end.
—Patrick Markee, The New York Times Book Review
Kempadoo's Caribbean argot is precise and fluid, enriching this debut with bawdiness, violence and raucous humor.
—Los Angeles Times
About the Book
In Kempadoo's debut novel, we are immediately and vividly thrown into the mind and world of Lula, Kempadoo's prepubescent narrator. Rich in sensory detail, the novel carries its reader along in a flow of snappy vignettes about ten-year-old Lula's awakening sexuality, the people of Tamarind Grove, her racially mixed family and their conflict with the PNC regime of Burnham's Guyana. Kempadoo's depiction of the ten-year-old psyche, in Guyana or anywhere is shockingly accurate. Buxton Spice , like the mind of a ten-year-old girl, is preoccupied with sex. Sex and the three prostitutes in town, the burgeoning sexual prowess of the slightly older neighboring boys, and a graphically described scene of sex play among Lula and her sister and a set of neighboring sisters. Lula's world is a confusing place; her body and role are changing, as is the political landscape of Guyana. She looks to the Buxton Spice mango tree that towers over her house like an omniscient God. She is full of questions about the violent world around her. The big tree, she believes, knows but won't tell her its secrets. The great strength of Buxton Spice is in Kempadoo's ability to palpably show the reader an unfamiliar place and people, embroiled in the familiar struggles of life.
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About the Author
Oonya Kempadoo was born in Sussex in 1966 of Guyanese parents and brought up in Guyana from the age of five. She is of mixed Indian, African, Scottish and Amerindian descent. She lived briefly in Europe in her late teens before returning to the Caribbean where she has lived ever since, in St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and currently in Grenada. In 1985, she began working in costume design and manufacturing for Carnival, started a commercial textile design business, and freelanced in computer graphics. She began writing in 1997 producing Buxton Spice, a semi-autobiographical account of a rural coming of age. Tide Running is Kempadoo's second novel. In addition to her writing she does voluntary social work with a home for some of Grenada's disadvantaged teenagers.
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Questions for Discussion
- Lula's house doubles as a school and community center. Her parents are educated and politically active. How is Lula different from the neighboring children because of these facts? How is she the same despite these facts?
- Lula's sexual awakening coincides with her awakening to the political tensions of Burnham's Guyana. What are the ramifications of Lula's having to deal with both of these things at once? Does this duality impede or accelerate her coming of age?
- “So big I couldn't climb it. Was one tree I didn't like. Walking down the stairs you could feel this thing knowing what you're thinking. . . . It knew everything and wouldn't tell me nuthing” (28-29). Lula sees the Buxton Spice tree as all knowing, Godlike. What about her situation supports her choosing a tree to deify?
- Much of the novel concerns itself with Lula's sexual awakening. Kempadoo has been praised for the fresh language she uses to convey a familiar subject matter. Pick out a few examples of this and discuss them.
- Discuss Lula's ideas about man-self. Who has it and to what degree? She says, “But in Sammy I could see no man-self at all. . . . She had a way that could make you give her anything she wanted” (121). What does Lula's desire to cultivate her man-self and shun her she-self say about her character?
- Tamarind Grove is a dangerous place. Does Lula appear to be frightened? Is she afraid when the People's Militia search her house and arrest her mother?
- Kempadoo writes in dialect in the first person narration as well as dialogue. What effect does this have on the story? What effect on the reader? Can you think of other authors who have done this?
- What are some of the universal themes of coming of age in this novel? What are the unique challenges of growing up for Lula and her friends?
- Kempadoo's use of language is often called lyrical and poetic. Choose a favorite passage that demonstrates her poetic prose and share it with your group.
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More Praise for Buxton Spice
“A brilliant achievement, precise, moving, poetic . . . as much a political novel as one about childhood.”
“Kempadoo is outstanding . . . Her observations true and funny . . . the prose is moist, natural, raucously alive, each sentence fantastically rhythmic and right.”
—Mail on Sunday
“Kempadoo brilliantly evokes the specific language of Lula's emergent sexuality through the use of a highly localized poetic language which suggests her sexuality is as much a social as a biological formation.”
“Lushly exotic . . . viewed through the eyes of Lula, a pre-pubescent Lolita growing up in Guyana, the novel draws an impressionistic picture of life in a country on the verge of collapse . . . Passages of descriptive brilliance . . . Swells the sexual lexicon and describes with erotic effect a child's sexual awakening.”
— The Times (London)