📖: Alexia Arthurs’ How to Love a Jamaican (2018)
Why this book?
June is Pride Month, so I will be highlighting works that feature Black LGBTQ+ stories for the rest of this month.
Alexia Arthurs’ How to Love a Jamaican is a brilliant collection of eleven short stories about Jamaicans and Jamaican Americans.
Through the lens of having lived in both Jamaica and America, Arthurs’ fiction explores the complications of the immigrant experience, belonging, identity, globalization, gender roles, and sexuality in both countries. Her stories portray how the choice to leave Jamaica for America not only has a profound effect on those who leave the island, but also on those who remain.
Female relationships (between college friends, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters) also serve as a central theme throughout the book. These relationships are portrayed in beautiful and nuanced ways, especially when Arthurs makes space for queer identities to take center stage in her stories. Some of my favorite stories in her collection are the ones that include queer perspectives, such as in “Island,” “We Eat Our Daughters,” and “Shirley from a Small Place.”
Why this drink?
Mermaids appear as a recurring symbol throughout the book. In an interview with The Paris Review, Arthurs notes that the mermaids in her stories “are an evolving metaphor,” as a reference to young female sexuality or transgressive sex. “But in a larger way,” she states, “I think of mermaids throughout the collection as challenging what people believe to be true about Jamaica. People tend to see Jamaica in such polarizing ways. Some think of Jamaica as being this paradise, and others think only of the high murder rates. I think of mermaids as being revelatory in this reckoning.”
The drink’s name and flavor profile also serve as a specific reference to one of the stories, “Mermaid River,” about a man and his childhood memories of his grandmother, who made and sold coconut drops by a river in their Jamaican hometown. For garnish, I added a couple of basil leaves to imitate mermaid emerging from the water.
1.5 oz white rum
4 oz coconut cream (unsweetened)
2 tsp sugar (granulated white, cane, or coconut sugar – omit sugar if you are using sweetened coco cream)
1/3 tsp vanilla extract
caramelized ginger syrup*
2 basil leaves
- heat coconut cream, sugar, and vanilla extract in a sauce pan just until it begins to bubble
- remove the mixture from heat and let cool
- once cool, add rum to the mixture in a shaker and shake with ice
- serve in a chilled glass with ice. top the drink with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramelized syrup.
*how to make caramelized ginger syrup: Pour sugar and water into a pan (using a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio), with a sprinkle of ground ginger, and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. When the sugar begins to thicken into a caramel texture, immediately remove from stove and drizzle on the drink. I used brown sugar, but you can use granulated white sugar as well.
If you don’t have whipped cream, you can make whipped cream out of the coconut cream or coconut milk by whisking it in a mixing bowl with a pinch of (powdered) sugar, until it begins to fluff.
If you only have sweetened coconut cream, omit the sugar in this recipe.
If you only have coconut milk, you may use that instead of coconut cream.
Garnishes are just garnishes! So if you don’t have any herbs, omit the garnish!
This recipe was inspired by Shanna Schad’s Rum and Coconut Milk Cocktail.
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Roxane Gay’s Ayiti (2011)
Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
And check out these reviews and conversations with the author to learn more about the book, and the process behind the writing:
- Process: Writing How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs
- Mermaids and Transgressive Sex: An Interview with Alexia Arthurs, by Abigail Bereola, The Paris Review, August 7, 2018
- ‘It’s More Complicated Than the Grass Being Greener’: An Interview with Alexia Arthurs, by Sharine Taylor, Hazlitt, July 24, 2018
- For Colored Girls Book Club + Alexia Arthurs Interview, July 2019
- How to Love a Jamaican Complicates the Idea of Home, by Hannah Giorgis and Lola Fadulu, The Atlantic, July 26, 2019