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Stemming from the Latin crudos, meaning “raw, uncooked, bleeding,” and related to cruor “blood from a wound” The Salt Roads is indeed crude. Carved from human flesh, with all it’s bone, meat, sweat, blood and juice, Hopkinson spares no pain. Her novel is raw work sliced from the skin of three women and a new-born god.
Mer is a slave in Haiti who’s only hope lies in brief liaisons with her woman lover, and her faith in La Sirene, one of the gods from the old country. Jeanne, in another time and land, is Baudelaire’s scheming dark mistress, desperate to grasp at security in a century and land where there is no security for women, of any color. Thais, an Alexandrian prostitute, runs away from her master to see the great Roman cathedral at Capitoline. At the hands of their masters, each woman suffers the hardships of their time, and then more.
Within each, Hopkinson deftly interweaves the triple aspects of Erzulie, the Vodun goddess of love. Riding, or possessing, Mer, she is La Sirene, ruler of the ocean and motherhood. Like La Sirene, Mer steadfastly mothers and bathes the ill, oppressed, and wounded slaves of her new land. As Erzulie Danthor, Jeanne is consumed with jealousy and passion, unable and unwilling to keep herself from affairs with either man or woman. Through Thais and her ordeals in the desert, comes the aspect of Erzulie Freda, the virgin goddess of love.
Fortunately from all my research for Cry Havoc it was easy to see the various manifestations of Erzulie in each of the women, but I’m afraid that is a subtlety lost on the more casual reader. Having said that, I have to admit the borning of Erzulie throughout the story confused me. It seems that, like the women, the goddess wasn’t able to fully manifest until suffering through an almost near-death wounding, a sacrifice if you will from the hand of her oppressor. As with the women, once the wound was overcome, she was reborn into her authentic destiny.
Hopkinson’s novel is earthy, mystical fare, heavily seasoned with the vital salts of blood, sweat, and juice. It’s a compelling read of women and gods, displaced and found. While compelling, be warned that The Salt Roads is often disjointed – Hopkinson juggles the four lives unevenly, with Thais appearing late in the story, as if in afterthought.