“Nepthys listened to the frightened calls of creatures of passage, their fearsome tales of happenings in the darkest of dark, unaware that she held the light of the path in her hand…”(261)
Creatures of Passage (Akashic Books, available 3/16/2021) by Morowa Yejidé is unlike any book I’ve encountered before. There are echoes of other authors and other works; early praise draws a comparison to Toni Morrison. (I heard Morrison, particularly in Rosetta’s sections, and I also found the entire novel a bit Faulknerian.) But those echoes are nods to what came before, evidence of a solid foundation upon which an author is nurtured, a foundation of traditional canonical literature, but more importantly, a foundation that includes the voices that were largely silenced by an industry that did not wish to hear them.
Creatures of Passage is inherently unique in both construct and execution. It is a lyrical magical realism work with mystical fog, twins born conjoined at the knuckle, mythological elements, talking animals, and Frankenstein’s monster of vegetables. It’s a ghost story with a dead white girl in the trunk of car, a young Vietnamese girl killed in the war, and a black man murdered because a white woman said he touched her. It is a crime drama with murder, pedophilia, sexual assault, drug dealers and druggies, and an incident involving the police and a mentally ill young black man. It is beautiful and brutal, terrific and terrifying, all in the same breath.
The novel is set in 1977 in Anacostia – an area of DC called the “capital’s wild child east of the river that bore its name.” In the eastern most quadrant, where “anything was possible,” Nepthys Kinwell tries her damnedest to drown her losses and guilt in booze, avoid her niece, and ferry those who need her most to their desired destinations. Nephthys is a special type of taxicab driver, her 1967 Plymouth Belvedere travels with the fog and comes when summoned, the dead white girl in the trunk a constant but harmless passenger. When Nepthys’s niece’s son, Dash, shows up at her door with a note from school, everything changes.
It’s a novel of things that are lost and things that are found -things that are freely given and things that are stolen. And sometimes what is lost, found, given and stolen are the people who end up in the back seat of that Belvedere, eating candy from a sack handed to them by a woman who lives up to her goddess namesake, just as her brother, Osiris, lives up to his.
Read this book.