Fans of the Savanoy series by T&T-born author Nathalie Taghaboni are rejoicing at the publication of the long-awaited third book, Side By Side We Stand.
The story, set mostly in Trinidad, centres around the fates of the Savanoy family–Jeneva, Carlton, Helene, Gloria, Remy, Vijay and Kenneth, characters that became dear to readers of the first two books, Across from Lapeyrouse and Santimanitay.
Taghaboni, who left Trinidad when she was 14 and now lives in the US, said readers have told her that not only the scenery but the characters are real and they see them walking the streets every day.
"There's quite a bit of Book Three actually that only West Indians and specifically people who are familiar with Trinidad will notice." She said the T&T of the books is an idealised version of the country.
Taghaboni said her muses wouldn't allow her to be anything less than true to life, so a traditional happy ending may not be in the cards.
"Everyone tells me that the story feels so real, and Book Three reminds you that life is not a fairytale, sometimes there is no happily-ever-after. You may escape while reading a book but after the book closes, you still have to face life."
One of the most stunning elements of the new book is the cover, which features a white-faced moko jumbie draped in white. The portrayal is by Jha-whan Thomas, whom Taghaboni met in 2014 while launching the first two books. She had previously been in awe of his 2008 Pandemic Rage performance for Brian MacFarlane and asked him to be on the cover in 2015, even before his 2016 Dying Swan portrayal.
Dying Swan designer Roland Guy James also did the moko jumbie's cover costume, with make-up by Mervyn de Goeas.
"My photographer Errol John went out five o'clock one morning to Lapeyrouse Cemetery and shot the cover for me. I've never met these folks but I've been working with them. Technology has helped me to remain connected in a very real way."
Taghaboni's lifelong fascination with pan and mas are evident in her writing, with the Savanoy family being famous for bringing an award-winning band every year. Her descriptions of the costumes are detailed and vivid, and have led to non-Caribbean readers being drawn to the festival, if their reviews are to be believed.
She shares these reviews on the Facebook page she runs under the name Queen Macoomeh, and the fans who gather there have been dubbed the "Studients of Commess University." Taghaboni said her "studients" have contributed to her growth as a person and a writer.
"I truly enjoy people and in order for me to do what I do, I need to be receptive to them. This 'university' has so many different kinds of characters. I cull some of their attributes and use some of the interactions to create my own arsenal of characters for my writing.
"The only demand that I have on my Facebook page is that respect be shown to and by every person there, and if that can't be done, then later."
The folklore elements in the books are a result of stories Taghaboni's grandmother told her as a child.
"I remember a painting on the wall of her house where all the local folklore characters were depicted: Papa Bois, La Diablesse, Mama Glo, all of them. She would point to each one and tell me their names and their characteristics and it stuck.
"I have pulled everything that has happened in all three books from a memory. The folk characters have always fascinated me, especially the moko jumbies. They terrified and excited the mind of the child within at the same time."
Taghaboni said it would be a shame for T&T to lose these folklore characters to technology.
"I think today's children don't care or don't know about Mama Glo or a La Diablesse. They want to hear about Friday the 13th or go catch Pokemon. I wanted to remind us of ourselves, of things we knew as kids, and for people to tell their children.
"It's shameful that Twilight and those other characters are in the front row of our bookstores in T&T as opposed to our own. If I am a visitor, the last thing I want to see is more of the same, I am coming to your home and I would like to see how you live. So I try to bring it out in my books.
"In Trinidad and the Caribbean, we seem to dismiss ourselves and hold on to foreign while foreign has nothing better than we do, and often wants to take our stuff and re-purpose it. Witches and warlocks, we have La Diablesse and douens and Papa Bois and to me just the sound of those words is so evocative, and I think it's time for us to step into our own shoes, they fit nicely."
Side by Side We Stand will shortly be available at the Paper Based Bookshop at the Hotel Normandie in St Ann's.