Salt Crystals by Cristina Bendek
Never go back is such good advice, and yet where would literature be if this advice was always adhered to? We certainly wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading Cristina Bendek’s Salt Crystals (superbly translated by Robin Myers), whose protagonist, Victoria, dares to ‘go back’ to the island of San Andres where she was born, but desperately escaped from in her teens, “taking off like a shot after high school”. Her return isn’t made with any great longing but seems like the right move at the right time, but it’s no easy return as there’s plenty of her former life to unpack and understand in terms of her family’s slave trading past and contested history, “There’s no black blood in this family, my grandmother said.” However, her “hair and other features” seems to suggest otherwise and spurs her on to discover more about the island’s untaught black history, in relation to slavery, land ownership and aspirations to political autonomy from the Columbian ‘mainland’. At times she’s overcome by it all, “I hadn’t imagined that other Caribbean islands like this one - small, touristic - we’re home to intellectuals proposing new ways to conceive of their own past”, but Victoria’s old and new friends are supportive and see an ally who’s desperate to understand her place on an island she now starts to conceive of as some kind of home. Cristina Bendek’s Salt Crystals is a brilliant and sensory overload of a novel, the sights, sounds and smells of island life ever present and overwhelming as Victoria charts and, occasionally, dreams her way to an appreciation of her personal history and, maybe, a new life.
Salt Crystals – Cristina Bendek – (translated by Robin Myers) - publ. Charco Press - £11.99