So as you may have noticed from my review, I loved Disney's The Princess and the Frog. (Go see it!) But the film does suffer from depressingly common voodoo!fail, in which a complex religious tradition is reduced to a boogeyman to power the story's engine.
So I thought I'd make a list of other stories that incorporate the religions of the African Diaspora (there must be a more succinct and accurate handle for these faiths, comparable to the "Abrahamic religions," but I don't know it) in more mindful ways and deserve your attention.
Sadly, it's a short list.
1. The Accidental Santera by Irete Lazo. This autobiographical first novel is about a Latina scientist struggling with infertility who re-connects embraces her ancestral religion, Santeria. It's a light, fast, very fun read—like chick-lit in which a woman's soul matters more than her love-life—and I particularly enjoyed the way its very contemporary heroine learns to balance her scientific training with her need for faith.
2. The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi. This is not Oyeyemi's best book (I recommend you read The Icarus Girl first), but it may be her most fascinating. Written in a highly experimental style, it weaves together two narratives, which may be different views of the same story. In one, Maya, a Londoner of Black Cuban descent, goes about her daily life with friends and family; in the other fertility goddess Yemaya and other Yoruba orishas struggle to connect with each other despite estrangements.
3. Graveyard Dust by Barbara Hambly. The third in the Benjamin January mystery series, this book has as its hero-detective a free man of color (trained as a doctor, but forced to make a living as musician) in 1830s New Orleans. I love this whole series, which traces the pressure on the free black community as the old French colonial order gives way to a more dangerous American expansionism. But this novel shines for the respect with which it tackles New Orleans vodun and the complex attitudes toward it in the black community during slavery. Benjamin is a devout Catholic with nothing but scorn for his sister's practices, but the book itself never falters in its respect for both faiths, while at the same time critiquing abuse of power by religious authorities.
4. Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson. The great post-apocalyptic Toronto Afro-Caribbean vodun novel. A sci-fi novel that uses the religion as a source, it has not pleased one practitioner I knew who read it; but as an avid reader of fantasy, I have a lot of respect for the way Hopkinson uses diasporic African traditions to build a fictional world, consciously parallel to the use of European mythologies in magical fiction.
5. "Good Boy" by Nisi Shawl. I don't know how to summarize a short story without giving too much away, and there were other stories in the collection Filter House that held my imagination longer, but Shawl is a writer to watch. This is her take on Elegba.
Do you know of other works for this list? Or do you disagree with my choices? Please do let me know!
- Five Stories That Treat Diasporic African Religions Better Than The Princess and the Frog Did