Short Stories 366:47 — “Jooni,” by Kemba Banton

coverThere was so much going on so incredibly well in such a short space of time in this story I think Kemba Banton might be some sort of magic-wielding individual herself or something. This time, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History takes us to Jamaica in 1843, and the titular character of Jooni, and delivers a series of short, sharp shocks to the system through her eyes.

Jooni is an obeah woman, like her mother was before her, and as we learn of her history, her mother’s history, and her current situation in a post-slavery Jamaica, Banton juggles pretty much every ball: the emotional traumas of Jooni, the complexity of being different from even within your own kind, the cost of losing a voice, the struggle to find both purpose and place when everything has been stripped away, and—more than any of the other stories I encountered so far in the collection—the importance of inherited narrative. Jooni is a freaking phenomenal character, and watching her face fear, isolation, anger, pride and—ultimately—herself was a really triumphant ride.

The idea of forgetting ones own voice, especially when that voice has been passed on from those who came before, really, really resonated with me as a queer reader especially. And as “Jooni” progressed, I was so completely invested with the hope she was going to find a way to something: either a new place, a new future, or at least some sort of happiness where she was. Banton delivered an ending I truly appreciated that surpassed what I’d considered. I loved this.

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