Author and practising doctor Cliff Bacchus delivers a mystical book with a vital real-world warning…
As soon as I picked up new psychological thriller Curses of Cousins, I was instantly sucked in by the engrossing prose and evocative descriptions that sets it apart from the typical psychological thriller.
Chiefly, I suspect, this is because author Cliff Bacchus has a lot of great material and ideas to work with.
His new novel is set on the fictional Sigatoo Island in the Caribbean, a hundred-mile-long, pencil-shaped island that immediately conjures up a sense of tropical paradise, all the more welcome during the current lockdown.
Take, for instance, this beautiful description of the setting:
“…the sun illuminated the aquamarine ocean, the sailboats, and the one-story clapboard houses. The mango, coconut, and moringa trees glowed and waved in the gentle saline breeze. Manicured lawns and floral gardens showed off their splendor. On the docks filled with fishing vessels, seagulls screamed and fought over fish guts.”
However, things are far from picture-perfect on Sigatoo. In fact, many of the people who live on the island are plagued by diseases and ill-health.
Included within this unfortunate group is 31-year-old teach Brooklyn Watts, whose family have all be struck by what they can only describe as a ‘curse’.
She and her twin sister suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS), while the rest of her siblings and both parents also have equally incurable illnesses.
In pain every day with her condition, to the point that sometimes she thinks she would be better off dead, Brooklyn is determined to find the real reason for these disorders.
After researching matters, she concludes that there can only be one possible cause behind the islander’s afflictions: they are all the victims of the traditional practice of intermarriage between cousins.
Armed with this knowledge, she sees it as her duty to warn the island leaders and, through them, the wider community, so that this harmful tradition can be consigned to the history books.
It’s a mission worth taking on, but little does she know how it will ultimately take her around the planet, and beset her with dangers, and not only from this world.
While some novelists might think Brooklyn’s quest, alone, might suffice for the plot, Bacchus injects an additional metaphysical element that pits his brave protagonist against the forces of evil, intent on capturing her soul.
This being, Vod, is ever-present in her mind to discourage her from continuing her journey and, instead, take her seat in hell as his queen. He is counterbalanced by the force of good, Chutzpah, who offers support and reassurance.
Brooklyn, then, must deal with her own demons – quite literally – waging a war for her mind while she is all the time facing an uphill struggle to change the minds of everyone else.
For a time it seems she may have an ally in the form of romantic interest Alexander Silverstein, but like with many of the other inhabitants, the actions of his parents will come to have a significant impact on Brooklyn’s chances of a happy ever after, and not in the way you might well expect.
It is often advised to authors that they should write about what they know, and this old adage has reaped dividends for Bacchus.
A respected doctor based in the Bahamas for more than 40 years, he has encountered sad cases of individuals who were born with genetic diseases on account of the practice of cousin marriage.
He also holds a degree in metaphysics, and provides complementary medicine at his pain clinics alongside conventional Western treatments.
It is clear that the author, now 78, is as passionate about warning against the continued, if somewhat taboo, practice of intermarriage.
And while there’s no getting away from it – the story is bleak – Curses of Cousins is a brilliant and novel (no pun intended) way to tackle a real-world issue that is not only happening in the Bahamas but across the globe, including the UK where the practice is perfectly legal between first cousins.
Indeed, in the UK, it is thought that two children die a week as a result of being the offspring of cousins.
By setting out his persuasive, scientifically-supported arguments through fiction, author Bacchus shares his important message without preaching.
And I suppose what I loved most about his novel is the way he managed to tell a very real, uncomfortable story in such an approachable and satisfying way.
Part of this attraction is having a female central character who displays courage every step of the way
Too often, I feel fiction ignores the presence of debilitating illnesses, especially as so many young women battle chronic diseases. In Brooklyn, they have a new hero.
A particular scene I love is where Brooklyn is raging against her MS: “Bloody MS! Friggin’ you, Vod! You are the Jonah in the boat. Disobedient! Disgusting!”
So, in summary, Curses of Cousins is an unusual but expertly-executed novel that has lots to recommend to readers who enjoy fiction with a social conscience.
Curses of Cousins by Cliff Bacchus is out now on Amazon, priced £9.07 in paperback and £3.02 as an eBook.