One dark night on Saint Domingue, an island that will one day be known as Haiti, three slave women bury a stillborn baby in a tiny coffin, each mourning the loss of the small soul. Sharing their grief, the women experience an otherworldly sensation none can afterward describe, a passage of spirit -- the birth of Elizi, the Afro-Caribbean goddess who will be central to their lives. The goddess lives through the bodies of three particular women, gradually claiming self-knowledge in the spirit world.
The goddess first inhabits the stunning Jeanne Duval, a half-black, half-white dancer in 1842 Paris who has captured the heart of poet Charles Baudelaire. Restricted by the color of her skin, Jeanne views Baudelaire as the opportunity for security and freedom from the constant financial worries that assault her. A son of wealth and privilege, the poet is seduced by Jeanneís dusky beauty and sensuality, and obsessed by her insatiable sexual appetites. Jeanne Duval remains the poetís mistress for a number of years, although the goddess residing inside is driven to distraction by Jeanneís childish self-obsession.
The scene shifts to Saint Domingue and the second woman. Mer is an older slave, gifted at the healing arts and uses of medicinal herbs, who doctors the others on the plantation. In 1742, the islandís economy is driven by sugar cane. The slaves endlessly plant and harvest fields. Most slaves have come from Africa on slave ships, their lifespans shortened by perpetual hunger and the exotic diseases indigenous to the island. Wise and compassionate, Mer is burdened by her intimate awareness of the painful existence endured by the slaves day after day. Because of her exceptional sensitivity and the loneliness of her own heart, Mer prays, communicating with the ocean goddess who speaks to her of salt: the salt of tears, of the ocean and the womanly rites of passage.
Meritet, a young Alexandrian woman of pleasure, is the third vessel of the emerging Elizi. Traveling with a young male prostitute to the former Jerusalem, Meritet is beset with an unexpected loss followed by a spiritual transformation, one that changes her from prostitute to legend.
Moving gracefully through time, each woman is a vehicle for the evolution of this goddess who is a symbol of fertility, sensuality and the loving nature of women. The writing is rich, earthy and intensely physical, tied to the land and to the people. Ribald and uninhibited, the author strides through history, speaking for those without voices, enchanting, seducing and raging at the weight of injustice.
While penning a fantastical tale of empowerment and joyful sexuality, Hopkinson accomplishes much more. Breathing truth into years of slavery and inequality, her intoxicating words inform while entertaining. Be guided by the authorís powerful intuition. Take this exceptional journey, as mysterious as the world of the spirit and as real as the steel chains that bind the limbs of those bought and sold.