edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (Crossed Genres Publications)
The editors start off in their introduction saying that before Long Hidden was a book, it was a discussion centering around “representations of African diasporic voices in historical speculative fiction, and the ways that history ‘written by the victors’ demonizes and erases already marginalized stories.” So-called diversity where there were monocultures, whitewashed book covers and stories, recent and path-forging authors, all these were cited as impetus to have this anthology exist.
And it is an anthology we need on so many levels.
The stories within those pages are all solid; they all pass muster. Not a weak one in the bunch. Some you may be drawn to more than others as a matter of personal taste.
Let’s start with the first story in the collection, “Ogres of East Africa” by Sofia Samatar. Colonialism, being defined by it, self-determination. The little indignities, the “little oppressions,” one endures in a daily life trying to learn, trying to better oneself, trying to get by – they interweave this narrative relating supernatural creatures. Read the fine print.
“The Oud.” Wow – the beginning line of this story hooked me: “My dead husband’s demons are seeking to sink into my daughter’s bones.” It’s a sad, desperate tale of a mother wanting to save her daughter’s body and soul. Evocative words, and images, keep you reading on to the end.
Slavery and its horrors are what this young interracial family seek to escape in “Free Jim’s Mine”, and they seek the aid of a free relative. But other types of dangers are out there and they must overcome them if they are to survive, with an ending you won’t expect.
The story that stuck with me the most was “Lone Women.” Family can be complicated. Family can be dangerous, deadly even. So can being a lone woman in Montana in 1914. Exclusion, cruelty from within and without family are overcome as a lone woman comes to deal with all of this to settle into her life and face even danger on her own terms. The same could b said for “Ffydd (Faith)”, set almost in the same period, this time in Wales, minus the danger. Instead of a lone woman, it focuses on a woman and her husband fending off family dynamics that permeate her fight to accept her husband, despite the family’s inclination to the contrary.
“Across The Seam” is a tale of European immigration, striving for voice and equality, striking, mining, gender identity – and fire. I got transported by the turns of evocative phrase related to fire. There are many tales here where language is the hook. For example, in “Collected Likenesses,” you have a haunting tale full of evocative language about past sins, retribution, family and the ties that bind.
In “Nine”, women have set up a life for themselves, a family of acquaintances, living on their own terms in Phoenix, Arizona in 1902. But the past won’t stay dead, and danger wants something of at least one of them – and will keep coming to get what it wants. Danger of a different sort defines “Numbers”, danger that calls to you instead, that entrances, entices in this tale involving gangsterism, water, and a mysterious island that rises out of the depths.
Dreaming is the key, dreaming dangerously, aye, there’s the rub, in Meg Jayanth’s “Each Part Without Mercy.”
“The Witch of Tarup” offers a kind, simple story of searching . . . and finding what you seek, and more, in unexpected places in 1880’s Denmark. Then, set in 1500’s Austria, “The Heart And The Feather” is the tale of a young woman who has to come to terms with identity, prejudice, what it means to be human, and betrayal for her and her family. Another tale set in the past is “Marigolds.” Blood, magic, love, greed in 1770’s Paris. Oh. And a brothel.
Those are set in a European past . “Diyu “ gives us a sharp, harsh tale set in 1880’s British Columbia. Here, a man has to face exploitation, racism, and a less-than-ideal present while having a foot in the past. He makes an explosive choice. Also Canadian: The pain of separation from one’s own children is the soul of “A Deeper Echo.” Here, a First-Nations man of Ojibwe descent decides to risk retaliation from white society, with bloody consequences.
“Angela and the Scar” is a child’s tale in the Philippines of family reunion, a trickster, old folklore versus new colonialism and the clash of war.
And then there’s “The Colts” – a story set in Hungary that will tug on your heartstrings. It’s about love, death, friendship and letting go.
It’s not the language in “Nine” that’ll grab you, where every word flows with vernacular. It’s not the reveal of the hard life, hard personalities, and hard choices that’ll make you turn the page to see what will happen next. It’s the cost that’ll get you.
“Neither Witch Nor Fairy.” Someone never quite in their own skin is at the centre of this story, and it takes an encounter with some naughty creatures for them to get some answers.
I love the title of Ken Liu’s “Knotting Grass, Holding Ring.” Here, one young woman is looking for someone to look up to. The other slightly older woman is complex; is she protagonist, antagonist, hero, antihero? The prospect of annihilation makes for interesting bedfellows.
Fear, isolation and loss are some of the figurative and literal demons faced by the title character, “Jooni,” in this story set in Jamaica around the time of emancipation. And like Jooni, Nnedi’s protagonist possesses magic that puts her at odds with society in “It’s War.” The growing tensions between the local populace and their colonizers reaches a boiling point. Despite its title, war is a setting, not the plot. The soul of the piece is the same as with Jooni’s; what drives Like Arro-yo, what she fears, home, who she misses.
“There Will Be One Vacant Chair” is a story brimming with familial love of the sisterly kind, and underscores the clash of personalities between two brothers. It’s set in 1820’s Ohio and focuses on the one female member of a Hungarian Jewish family. Disability and war interweave in this tale that will leave you sad and hopeful at the end.
Fear underpins a good portion of this story, despite “Find Me Unafraid” ‘s title. It’s a tale about friendship, new love, finding yourself, and living with the constant looming arbitrary terror of Ku Klux Klan raids.
The grey shadows of the underworld permeate “A Wedding in Hungry Days,” a tale about a morose spirit yearning for acceptance and belonging.
Familial love between a father and a daughter during a dangerous cow-herding trek across the land ground “Medu,” set in late 1800’s Kansas, where yearning for a mother’s love and hard work, dealing with supernatural dangers, fighting for what’s yours and the prospect of a racial refuge all pass through the eyes and experiences of Lil Bit.
In “Dance of the White Demons”, albinism, foretelling and friendship shape a tale of endurance under the spectre of war and the upcoming genocide of a people.
And, now we come to it. “A Score of Roses” by Troy L. Wiggins. The story of the “literary trick” controversy. As someone who handpicked an author for, and published them writing a story completely in, Caribbean patois, or island vernacular or dialect, if you will, don’t expect me to have an issue with the use of vernacular in this story. I don’t . . . I don’t see the problem, to be quite frank. It’s not present in every single word in the piece, like it is in “Name Calling.” It’s the rhythm of one of the Afrocentric cultures that live on the planet; I’ve just taken a gander at it again, to refresh my mind, and the nuance is again different from how Malon Edwards uses Creole in his recently published “The Half Dark Promise” over at Shimmer. Wiggins’ use of vernacular is good – it flows like a malta drunk after a good curry goat roti, if you know what I mean.
It is the hope of the editors of this book that the stories within will spawn “many conversations that will become many ideas, many stories, many dreams.” Perhaps, you may be inspired to write your own Long Hidden story.
All in all, it’s a good collection, a necessary collection, and more things like this need to be published to show the full breadth of the human experience. RECOMMENDED
– Tonya Liburd