Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson
Published: Warner Books, 2007
Awards Nominated: Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial, and Mythopoeic Awards

The Book:
The New Moon's Arms is a mainstream magical realism novel set in the Caribbean on the fictional island of Dolorosse. Calamity, born Chastity, has renamed herself in a way she feels is most fitting. She's a 50-something grandmother whose mother disappeared when she was a teenager and whose father has just passed away as she begins menopause.

With this physical change of life comes a return of a special power for finding lost things, something she hasn't been able to do since childhood. A little tingling in the hands then a massive hot flash, and suddenly objects, even whole buildings, lost to her since childhood begin showing up around Calamity.

One of the lost things Calamity recovers is a small boy who washes up on the shore outside her house after a rainstorm. She takes this bruised but cheerful 4-year-old under her wing and grows attached to him, a process that awakens all the old memories, frustrations and mysteries around her own mother and father. She'll learn that this young boy's family is the most unusual group she's ever encountered—and they want their son back.” ~WWEnd.com

Nalo Hopkinson is an author I’d whose work I’ve been meaning to check out for a while, so I was happy to see that The New Moon’s Arms fits nicely into one of my 2014 reading challenges.  This is the first book I’ve read by Hopkinson, but I doubt it will be the last.

My Thoughts:

The New Moon’s Arms is a story in part about a woman’s difficult transition from youth to middle age. Calamity (born Chastity) is entering menopause, but she is still clinging desperately to her youth and to the life history that has defined her.  Not only is her sense of identity shifting, the world in which she was a young woman is also beginning to no longer exist.  From the long-ago destruction of her childhood home and loss of her mother, to the recent death of her father, to the new perspectives of a younger generation, everything is disappearing and changing. She must come to terms with the mysteries and painful memories that fill her past before she can move forward into a future that threatens to leave her behind.  Part of this digging up the past comes through her re-awakened ‘finding’ ability, which causes lost artifacts of her childhood to resurface, and part is through interacting with the people that have caused her to become the person she is in the present.

While Calamity’s life has shaped her into an energetic, fiery woman with a sharp sense of humor, it has also left her with some glaring personality flaws.  From the beginning, she comes across as very immature, impulsive, and prejudiced, with a level of self-absorption that prevented her from seeking to understand anyone outside herself.  At her best, she can be charming, but at her worst, she is a trial to the people who attempt to love her.  Her rescue of the sea child reflects her best and worst qualities—she is a woman who would care for an abandoned 4-year-old with barely a second thought, but her lack of capability or desire to understand others prevents her from even learning the kid’s name.  Though I can’t say Calamity is exactly likeable, I thought that her progression as a heroine felt realistic.  People don’t change overnight, and Calamity’s growth as a person is an inconstant and slow process.

On a last point, I really loved the language of The New Moon’s Arms, and the vivid physicality of the descriptions of the islands where Calamity lived.  Everyone in the story spoke with a local patois, which gave a pleasant rhythm to their speech, and Calamity’s voice, in particular, gave the narration a casual, conversational style. I am wholly unfamiliar with Carribbean speech patterns, but I thought that the narration and dialogue both felt very natural and easy for a reader to follow. I am curious to read Hopkinson’s other novels, and to see how they are similar or differ from the style of The New Moon’s Arms.

My Rating: 4/5

The New Moon’s Arms is a story of growing older and of having to face the person you’ve allowed yourself to become.  Calamity has not had an easy life, but she is a difficult person to love. Calamity’s story in told a distinct and interesting voice, and the weaknesses of her character are shown with an unflattering honesty.  Calamity was not always an especially likeable character, and the fantastical elements reflected her tendency to cling to the past and her self-absorption.  She was an engaging flawed heroine, though, and I was eager to see her find some way to grow into a life where she could be happy. I enjoyed A New Moon’s Arms, and will look forward to reading more of Hopkinson’s work in the future.   

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