“This One Sky Day”, also known as “Popisho”, is a perfect summer read. The magical Caribbean islands of Popisho brim with colour and fun. And what a relief after two summers of COVID, where the airports are largely closed and stressors are at an all time high. The fantasy of escaping to a tropical island certainly meets the moment. The success of HBO’s “The White Lotus” and the rise of the Coconut Girl aesthetic on TikTok reflect that many people have island paradise on their mind.
However, Popisho is not that paradise. Rather than centre the fantasy of the affluent white tourist, author Leone Ross has rooted these islands in the magical realism of the Caribbean imagination. These islands exist outside of the modern realities of tourism, land theft and resource extraction. There isn’t a white person in sight – even the villain of the story agrees that it is better that white people are kept ignorant of these islands’ true magic and community. Free of the white gaze, the islands and the story allow for often forgotten layers of life to thrive.
This is a world where butterflies taste like alcohol, the economy runs on toys, and pum pum (vulvas) fall out at any moment’s notice. The pum pum hijinx could have derailed a lesser story. But Ross has crafted a world that is so deeply intimate and wildly creative, that it all flows together into the story’s teeming palette. In a world where everyone has magical powers, such chaotic events become the mundane reality for local radio to debate.
And there is much debate to be had. For all is not well in this paradise. There is hunger, addiction and grief. The harms of masculinity, and colonization are making everything unwell, including the islands themselves. These islands were colonized by emancipated slaves. These characters are navigating their Black and Indigenous identities. Soft men are fighting to be hard. Women are holding and losing their pum pums. Queers are eating poison.
Our main characters are a truth teller, a healer and a god-ordained chef. The story follows them and their community as they prepare for the Governor’s daughters wedding and ensuing political campaign. Except that the Chef’s wife has died by suicide and his cravings for moth are becoming overwhelming. The healer has a sick womb and her husband may be cheating on her. The truth teller’s world is homophobic and their body is dying.
In these themes Popisho really flexes its magic and creates compelling food for the soul. How do you overcome addiction? How do you move past infertility and infidelity? How do you bring about social change? How do you heal? Well you don’t. Really. Our characters try and they grow. But in the end all they can do is trust and accept. Reading this book during COVID is sure to realign your priorities.
Some may be surprised that such a magical story is so grounded in the internal realities of its characters. When so much is happening within the community of the islands – Ross continually shifts focus away from heroics to the inner lives and memories of the main characters. The true hero ends up being the island itself who disrupts the corruption and violence with successive waves of magic. A sweet hurricane is brewing – bringing change, reconciliation and healing. Now the question is how do we create space for the hurricane to blow into our own communities.
Rad Riot Reads is column written by members of the Rad Riot Books community that reviews literary works from the Global South, translated, queer, migrant and anti-oppressive literature.