2015 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize 2015 — Short-listed
As she comes into adulthood, Grace confronts the mystery of her own identity and the story of her birth mother in this sprawling, large-hearted novel.
Growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Chris, Grace Carpenter never feels like she really belongs. Although her large, extended family is black, she is a redibo. Her skin is copper-coloured, her hair is red, and her eyes are grey. A neighbour taunts her, calling her “a little red jacket,” but the reason for the insult is never explained. Only much later does Grace learn the story of her birth mother and decipher the mystery surrounding her true identity.
“A compelling tale of faith and family, ranging from the dusty landscapes of West Africa to the rich flavours of the Caribbean.” — WILL FERGUSON, Giller Prize–winning author of 419
This is the first full-length work of fiction from Mordecai, a widely published poet, critic, and short fiction author. Beginning on the fictional island of St. Christopher (reminiscent of Jamaica) in the late 1960s, the novel follows Grace Carpenter, the titular "red jacket" (illegitimate) child, through her life as the only adopted child in a large family. This exceptional story of one woman's education, career, and motherhood is written largely in St. Chris Creole, which reads as linguistic "rock-and-roll... crissing and crossing from English English, to Creole Creole, and hitting all notes in between." Mordecai interweaves Grace's narrative with the personal histories of the mother who gave her up but never forgot her, her adoptive family, and two of the most important men in her life: Mark Blackman, the chancellor at the university in St. Chris, and James Nathaniel Atule, a Jesuit whom she meets through her work fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Grace's story of a rise from humble beginnings may feel familiar, but Mordecai never allows it to become clich d. The novel manages to strike a balance between the bleak awfulness of Grace's life and the lush beauty of it.