For those who like novels with a big dose of reality fused with metaphysical elements, Curses of Cousins by author and practising doctor Cliff Bacchus is a must read.
Set in the sunny Caribbean but telling a story that is the epitome of dark, this fast-paced psychological thriller is a truly original book with a central message of worldwide importance.
Curses of Cousins centres on a woman named Brooklyn – aged 31, and a teacher by profession – who lives on the fictitious, tiny island of Sigatoo.
Rarely does an author write a story around a protagonist who is chronically ill, but that is the case here, with Brooklyn suffering from alopecia and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Sometimes her illness is so severe that she wishes she was dead.
But she is not an isolated case. The rest of her family — her three sisters, mother and father — also live with the curse of ill-health, as do many pockets of the island population.
Seeking answers to this puzzle, Brooklyn discovers that the root of the problem is down to an age-old tradition on the island: the marriage of cousins.
As she as she knows, and on account of the misery it has brought her and others, she becomes resolved to fighting this practice, armed with the duel swords of reason and science.
Firstly, she turns to the island leaders, but they are misogynistic and opportunistic in equal measure, agreeing to bring the issue to the attention of the island only in return for sexual favours.
And a seeming knight in white armour, dashing love interest Alexander Silverstein, is soon revealed to be just as much a part of the bigger problem that Brooklyn is confronting, and with tragic consequences.
Poor Brooklyn also has another fight on her hands or, more aptly, in her head, as her mind has been occupied by two spirit characters who plague her as she goes about her daily life.
One is the vampiric demon Vod, who is in pursuit both of her soul and hand in marriage, while Chutzpah is a being who is the embodiment of good in the world.
No matter where Brooklyn is, these two intruding voices are always with her.
On one level, this odd-ball, bickering due are most entertaining, but they also have a bigger role in the story, summing up the opposing forces of right vs wrong, knowledge vs ignorance, and courage vs capitulation that Brooklyn has to deal with across her journey.
While the novel is far from easy going at times, I do want to point out that there is light between the storm clouds, and even in the face of adversity, we are never in doubt that Brooklyn’s fight is just and right.
It is that ongoing struggle that brings the real dramatic punches to the story, and our heroine’s fortitude makes her memorable long after the final chapter.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that the practice of cousin marriage is a real-world issue and one that can, and does, lead to incurable diseases in offspring.
The author, a medical doctor who runs two pain clinics in the Bahamas, knows this only too well as he has had patients whose illnesses can be traced back to this practice.
But it’s a warning that needs to be heeded across the world. Even in the UK, where cousin marriage is perfectly legal, it is reckoned that two kids a week die from genetic diseases resulting from such unions between their parents.
The importance of both Brooklyn’s, and Bacchus’ mission, is neatly summed up in the words Sigatoo Island’s only doctor, Dr Gupta:
“On our isle, I’ve seen hundreds of genomic illnesses. The radical transformation in the next generation — the generation that does not intermarry — I may not witness. It’s a brave step in the right direction. In diseases, lifestyle and digestive health play a paramount role. In morbidity and mortality, genetics fill an integral role.”
I don’t think I’ve encountered a novel quite like Curses of Cousins. It is thought-provoking and campaigning without being in your face, and deeply absorbing as a story and character study.
For all these reasons, then, it comes highly recommended. Just what the doctor ordered, you might say.
Curses of Cousins by Cliff Bacchus is out now on Amazon, priced £9.07 in paperback and £3.02 as an eBook.