No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017/13: A Taste of Honey -- Kai Ashante Wilson

At her finger's touch, the world's richness and vividity doubled; it trebled and redoubled again. Aqib's perception expanded into a whole other dimension. Bees' buzzing, locust-chatter, the birds singing: no longer was this empty noise. It was lyric'd music, song with words. In a distant courtyard of the Sovereign House, a bitty lapdog barked and barked. Welcome home, I love you, Whee, Yay, Hurrah. Aqib had always . . . guessed? some of this: now he knew. Now he heard it plain. [loc. 559]
Aqib bgm Sadiqi is the son of the Olurumi Master of Beasts -- the keeper of the menagerie -- and fourth cousin to the royal family. He meets a handsome foreign soldier (Lucrio) and falls in love, or lust, or both. But Olorum culture is not accepting of homosexuality, and Aqib's family doubly so.

Aqib and Lucrio have ten days together: then Lucrio leaves, and Aqib marries the Blessèd Femysade, a princess of the royal house -- an act which elevates his family's standing, and produces a daughter, Lucinda, who attracts the interest of the gods. Or 'gods'... One of them corrects Aqib gently, asking him to call them ''children of the Tower Ashê.' Not that his recollection of that meeting with two gods, and his wife and daughter, is at all clear. Yet he keeps dreaming of it, wistfully, waking with the sense that something has been lost.

A Taste of Honey deals with identity, sexuality and memory, and the ways in which these are shaped by one's culture. They can, too, be manipulated: for one's own good, of course. But if Aqib were free to choose, to make his own decisions about his life, what would those decisions be?

I didn't find the language in this novella as rich and fascinating as in The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante's first novella, which is set in the same world. The setting, however, was more intricate in A Taste of Honey. Wilson contrasts the matriarchal, conservative Oloru and the more liberal Daluçan culture; the mysterious powers and qualities of the gods, which seem to be scientific in nature, with the quotidian realities of Aqib's life; the passion of his affair with Lucrio and the calm respect of his marriage. And the way in which it's all brought together -- and the title made sense of -- made me want to cheer.

At novel length, the characters might have been explored in greater depth, and we might have learnt more about the Blessèd Femysade and her perspective on the matter. There might have been more about the gods, too. (I'm looking forward to further stories in this world. ) But as a novella, this was very satisfactory: dense with detail, poetic without being overindulgent, and brilliantly structured.

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