Vol. 1 No. 1 2007
The Girl With The Golden Shoes
By Colin Channer
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
REVIEW BY BRENDA M. GREENE
Colin Channer's novella, THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN SHOES, set in pre World War II, is part bildungsroman, part moral fable. The cultural landscape for the novella is a mythical island in the Caribbean, a cross between Jamaica, Trinidad and Cuba.
Fourteen-year-old Estrella Thompson is the protagonist. As an adolescent, in short a woman-child, she must learn to survive and negotiate a space for herself in a world peopled by those who prey on the vulnerable, those in "wolves' clothes" who seize opportunities to devour what they desire.
As the story opens, Estrella, orphaned as her mother dies giving birth to her, is once again an orphan when her grandparents force her to leave home. This young girl who has "killed her own mother" is viewed by the village people as a harbinger of bad luck, for she has also discovered the power of the word and has taught herself to read. Why would she, the offspring of a fisher woman, need to know how to read? In the view of the villagers, too much knowledge is not good. Too much knowledge for one person, particularly a girl child, upsets the natural balance. The fish disappear from the ocean, the natural habitat is disturbed and Estrella has to be the cause of this. The people in the community insist that she leave so that harmony and balance can be restored.
Thus, Estrella's aggressive act of literacy is double-sided. In becoming literate, she loses her connection with the community. Although ostracized, her knowledge has empowered and subsequently energized her. She is now fueled by a burning passion to travel to places she has never known, to leave behind the small island where people are content to live the unexamined life.
Forced to traverse the world on her own, a world where those she meets try to entrap her, she is on a quest that becomes symbolic of the journey that we all take as we move from the edges of society to the center, from childhood to adulthood, from naivete to wisdom. Estrella's immediate wish is to get a pair of golden shoes, shoes that will take her away from her native island and establish her as someone worthy of a future in a distant land. These golden shoes will enable herto fulfill her dream to visit Europe.
Her journey is a search for self-determination, one in which she learns to negotiate the obstacles placed before her and to survive despite her marginalization from the life she has known. She has feelings of abandonment that cause her to yearn for love, nurturing and care; however, she realizes that these are not part of her immediate future. The people whom she encounters see a young womanchild who is an outcast, alone in an adult world. Despite all of this, Estrella is determined, and as she continues her journey, we see her emerging as a wise young woman who has learned to set boundaries and to take charge of her life.
Channer's novella is also an exploration of the impact of colonialism in the Caribbean. The lingering effects of colonialism are represented in the people with whom Estrella interacts: the original native peoples, the black Trinidians, the Spanish Creole and the descendants of the white British. Rather than adapt to and encompass the tenets of colonialism, Estrella resists and agrees to work in the home of the Spaniards on her own terms. She will take charge of her life and define her place in society.
Channer's work is layered with themes that are universal and timeless and that offer a window into life's lessons and moral teachings. It is particular to the Caribbean landscape in the midst of colonialism and reflective of the human experience that we continually endure.
Brenda M. Greene, Ph.D. is a professor of English and executive director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar EversCollege, City University of New York, Brooklyn, New York.
The Girl with the Golden Shoes: A Novella By Colin Channer Afterword by Russell Banks $13.95 (Paperback) Askashic Books (May 2007) 10-digit ISBN-1 0: 1933354267,13- digit ISBN-13: 978-1933354262