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Fiction: Rivka Galchen and Monique Roffey

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2012 Bocas Lit fest blogger


Rivka Galchen reads from Atmospheric Disturbances.
One of the things I admire best about Bocas it its inclusiveness. Its team has never declared, “No, you’ve got not one drop of Caribbean blood in you, so you’ll be barred at the gates, foreign writer!” This isn’t to say that the overwhelming majority of the festival schedule oughtn’t be about celebrating regional and regional diaspora talent; it should. I think that the heart of the matter is this: that there’s incredible value in inviting exciting, resonant talent to read, participate and share, on our shores. It extends the circle of bookish community even further, and how can this be a bad thing? This is what I had in mind when I listened to Canadian-American writer Rivka Galchen read from her novel,Atmospheric Disturbances. The plot of her book, without giving away too much, centres on a man in search of his wife, who’s improbably gone missing. In an act of calculated desperation, he returns to the place he met her first, against all reason, but with the instinct of someone struggling to hold on to hope. There was turmoil aplenty in the reading that her colleague, Trinidadian writer Monique Roffey, delivered, following Galchen’s brief but searingly emotive sharing. Roffey’s novel, Archipelago, seems on the surface to concern a man, a little girl, and a dog. (Oh, how much deeper it dives than that.) In the excerpt gifted to the audience, I listened, utterly rapt, to the tale of a journey growing by turns more perilous for unexpected reasons, to the brutally difficult decisions a father must make when precious, terrifying cargo winds up aboard his vessel. Immediately after Roffey’s reading, session moderator, British writer Anita Sethi described it as a “vivid evocation of the pleasures and perils of being at sea”, which struck me as a spot-on assessment.


Monique Roffey responds to a question from Anita Sethi, as Galchen listens.
Both writers were asked by Sethi to describe the sense of journeys that run through their novels. Roffey noted that her stories usually have a sort of biological genesis, but that in this case she felt compelled to chronicle the tale of the antihero’s quest, a non-Odysseus for our times and global concerns. A meteorologist’s pulse throbs at the core ofAtmospheric Disturbances, Galchen elaborated, adding that weather is something onto which most emotional states can be mapped. In surprisingly evocative ways, both works of fiction seem to echo a resounding sentiment: that there can be no escaping nature, nor one’s response to it.The scope and ambition of the novel place demands on a writer, Roffey told the audience – and it’s hard not to admire the willingness, the bravery with which she responded to that demand, sailing to the Galapagos Islands as part of the process of creating Archipelago. Terrain is a curious thing to a creative artist, Galchen grinned, stating that any kind of art can resemble a rare, exotic bird: entirely justifiable unto itself, even though it sticks out, sore-thumb-esque, on orthodox land. Immediately post-session, I rushed out to get Galchen’s book, and I’ve no doubt that it will form part of my May reading. I’ll have to wait a little longer forArchipelago, which launches officially in July this year. I can’t shake the persistent feeling that, for both books, the terrible splendour of Nature will crash over me while reading, that the emotional journey will be as riveting as the one in paper and ink. I can hardly wait.Photos by Rodell Warner, our official 2012 Festival photographer.