The Salt Roads

Written by Nalo Hopkinson
Review by Tracey Callison

It takes a powerful author to tie together the stories of a Nubian prostitute in ancient Jerusalem, a black showgirl in 19th-century Paris, and a slave on the island of Saint Domingue (now known as Haiti) using the observations and thoughts of an Afro- Caribbean goddess. Fortunately, Nalo Hopkinson (award-winning author of Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk and Midnight Robber) not only succeeds, but gloriously succeeds.

On a moonless night, three slave women bury a stillborn child with song and prayer and a new life is reborn. Ezili’s struggles to understand the physical world to which she has been brought take her into the minds and bodies of three women from very different cultures, each possessing their own strengths and weaknesses, and each illuminating in a different way what it is to be female and black. There is lusty and sensual Jeanne Duval, mistress of the bohemian poet Charles Baudelaire, who fights to define her place in society, and ultimately herself. Mer is a slave and healer on the island of Saint Domingue who struggles to learn what the goddess wishes of her, and to keep the men, women, and children around her alive within the unimaginable cruelty that is slavery. Thais (also known as Meritet, or Mary) is a whore in Alexandria in 345 CE who heads to Jerusalem in search of a different life, and ends up in the pages of history of St. Mary of Egypt. The reader joins the goddess on her journey of exploration and understanding of how the lives of these three women come together to provide a common narrative. Hopkinson’s writing is compelling and vivid, rich with historical description, characters and sense of place. An extraordinary novel, truly epic in scope.