A Review of In Time of Need

IT IS SO CAPTIVATING when a writer lifts off the stereotypical veneer of a tourist-dependent society as “paradise” and excavates the real lived experiences of the people. Shakirah Bourne does just that in her collection of short stories, In Time of Need. For those who reside in Barbados or those who have a good knowledge of Barbadian heritage, the opening words to the national anthem immediately come to mind when they hear Bourne’s title. “In plenty and in time of need when this fair land was young” is the beginning of an anthem that describes the struggle of a nation. Bourne’s title suggests that our nation is now stuck strictly in a time of need, and what I think we are in need of is more advances in our moulding of a cultural identity.

We need more of this kind of compelling literature that forces us to question the things we see or hear and accept as “normal.” Who we are as a people has been permeated by the corruption of a shifting value system. Bourne addresses political corruption; domestic, physical, emotional and verbal abuse; inequality; human trafficking; sex tourism; colourism; and female subordination, among other themes. In almost every case, these themes are treated by the characters as simple, blatant norms.

It isn’t just about how Bourne treats these themes in her work but whose perspective she uses to relay them: each character is extremely naïve of the harsh realities that they are situated in. Reading Bourne’s short stories is like starting a new journey where, even though we ourselves may have been naïve and distanced from some of these realities, we are educated through the naivety of others. 

Bourne expertly weaves her stories in a way that stays true to her characters as she suspends the urgency of the issues by not explicitly stating them. Therefore, we get their story exactly as they experience it. It is in this way that Bourne allows the reader to pick up on what her gullible characters cannot.

“White Sand” is a great example of this subtle projection. Bourne illustrates sex tourism and human trafficking; we infer meaning based on the experiences of the young girl who finds excuses for the many things that should alarm her, like the different name the lady gives the hotel concierge for her, the stains on the bed, and the revealing clothes in the hotel’s closet. By the end, our under aged protagonist, who thinks she is in Barbados to model, is so preoccupied with the “view” and the idea of living in paradise that she brushes those little alarm bells aside. But we as the readers are aware of the great danger that awaits her—the kind of danger that her naivety won’t be able to mask for much longer.

I’ve got to admit that I am one of those people who has been somewhat distanced from many of the issues that Bourne tackles. I know that these things happen, but I always think they can’t be happening so much in my own backyard. The way Bourne composes her short stories brings you face to face with the truth, especially since most of her naïve narrators are children living, for example, within domestic abuse situations and witnessing instances of infidelity...all the while being manipulated by those who should know better, who should teach them better. We get the idea that most of the child narrators are similar to Saran in “Saran’s Dollhouse” and that, at some point, they won’t be content with their dreams anymore, but their environment will eventually shatter that innocence. 

The innocence of Bourne’s child narrators is refreshing, funny, and authentic. She is able to get into the mind of a child with such seeming ease that you could hear each child’s voice, so candid and natural. Most of them speak their nation language, not “Standard English,” which cements, for me, their authenticity. In Time of Need is a work that has a light air yet is grounded in the critical issues of our day. 

Please also see https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/joannes-extra-ness/blogger-on-books-v/blo... by Joanne C. Hillhouse, whose most recent book is Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, with illustrations by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné.  Hillhouse has also been nominated for the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.