“Mothers never die. Children love to resurrect us in they stories.”
Folktales and spirits animate this lively and unforgettable coming-of-age tale of two Jamaican-Trinidadian sisters in Brooklyn grappling with their mother’s illness, their father's infidelity, and the truth of their family's past
Sisters Zora and Sasha Porter are drifting apart. Bearing witness to their father’s violence and their mother’s worsening illness, an unsettled Zora escapes into her journal, dreaming of being a writer, while Sasha discovers sex and chest binding, spending more time with her new girlfriend than at home.
But the sisters, like their parents, must come together to answer to something more ancient and powerful than they know—and reckon with a family secret buried in the past. A tale told from the perspective of a mischievous narrator, featuring the Rolling Calf who haunts butchers, Mama Dglo who lives in the ocean, a vain tiger, and an outsmarted snake, The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts is set in a world as alive and unpredictable as Helen Oyeyemi’s.
Telling of the love between sisters who don’t always see eye to eye, this extraordinary debut novel is a celebration of the power of stories, asking, What happens to us when our stories are erased? Do we disappear? Or do we come back haunting?
Palmer weaves folktales and magical realism in her moving debut, about a splintered Brooklyn family. Beatrice, a proud but troubled mother originally from Trinidad, raises daughters Sasha and Zora with her Jamaican husband, Nigel, in the late 1990s. West African fables play an important role in shaping the family's relationships and understanding of their culture. Beatrice gives Zora a book called The Anansi Stories for a school writing project, and teenaged Sasha helps Zora understand the tales and myths. As Nigel and Beatrice's relationship falls apart, a pregnant Beatrice develops debilitating headaches, Nigel falls in love with a German woman, and Sasha discovers she's not interested in boys and might prefer to appear masculine. Zora, meanwhile, dreams of becoming a writer. The more the two sisters explore their identities, the more they grow apart, and after Beatrice dies from cancer, they're haunted by her ghost. Palmer brings whimsy to her portrayal of the family even in painful moments—such as when Beatrice tells the girls fables to cheer them up—and nuance to the evolving attitudes of the Black American and Caribbean people in Sasha's orbit toward her exploration of sexuality and gender identity. This will stick with readers.