Foreign Soil. Ah-mazing! Maxine Beneba Clarke is such a strong writer that god help me if she ever writes a novel. She has such an uncanny ability to develop such whole characters even in such short stories that the reader finds themselves wholly immersed in the experience. Foreign Soil is a collection of short stories that tell the often untold tales of minorities. The ostracised, the forgotten and the persecuted. These stories span decades of our recent history and stretch as far wide as Africa to the US, England to Australia. Don’t be fooled into thinking these are stories that designed to invoke your sympathy towards the cultural minorities that are often preyed on. These stories are so much more than that. They merely tell these untold stories, acutely honest and in no means stereotypical painting all white people as bad guys or all people of colour as heroes, tell these stories that need to be told.
Beneba Clarke’s writing is so evocative, so honest, so unaffected. There are no airs, no graces and these stories re certainly not overwritten, appealing for sympathy. None of these stories are fairytales, they are the harsh realities of life and, yet, with pockets of beauty. I could not put this collection down and in fact read it from cover to cover in less than 24 hours (which included a full nights sleep and a usual day’s work). Different stories n this collection will stand out to different people. In particular I enjoyed their stories David, Hope, Foreign Soil, Shu Yi, Gaps in the Hickory, The Stilt Fisherman of Kathaluwa and the new addition Aviation.
Beneba Clarke is such an important author – her books should be read by everyone, in particular the privileged middle-class. I hope to see this book taught in high schools around the country if only to give our youths a little perspective, helping to guide them in making their own informed opinions rather than parroting what they hear at home or from friends. If you haven’t read this collection I would highly urge you to pick it up, I feel there is much to be gained from these stories for everyone and I dare anyone to walk away and not be touched by at least one of these stories. I give Foreign Soil five bicycles from the first story in this collection , one of my favourites.