Originally published: 12 May 2022
Author: Sophie Jai
Published by: Borough Press
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Reading dates: 20-23 May 2021
Grief is like an inside joke: you have to have been there to really get it.
The only things Cassandra knows about her family are the stories she’s heard in snatches over the years: about the aunt and cousin she never got to meet, about the man from the folded-up photograph in one of her aunt’s drawers, and of course about her cousin Chevy, and why he never speaks – but no one utters a word about them any more.
When a call from one of her sisters brings Cassandra news of Chevy’s death, she has to return home for the funeral. To Toronto and the big house on Florence Street, where her sisters are hiding more than themselves in their rooms, where the tension brewing between her mother and aunts has been decades in the making, and where sooner or later every secret, unspoken word and painful memory will find its way out into the open.
Moving between Toronto and Trinidad, Wild Fires is a vivid and compelling story exploring the ways we mourn and why we avoid the very things that can save us.
I do enjoy a good family drama and Wild Fires has plenty of family secrets and grievances that made for an engrossing read. Wild Fires is about the Rampersad family as they are all drawn back to the family home in Toronto to mourn the loss of Chevy. The story is told from the point of view of Cassandra, his younger cousin who travels back from England for the funeral at her childhood home, where the family gather, along with her sisters Briony and Ce-Ce. Already living in the house is the girl’s mother Leela and two of her sisters, Rani and Sangeetha. The family are devastated by the death of Chevy but you instantly get the impression there are many issues – no-one really talks to each other, moving around the house around each other, rather than together and mostly keeping to themselves in their rooms.
To understand more, the author takes us back to Trinidad in the late 1960s where the five Rampersad sisters are alone after the death of their parents. Oldest sister Rani immediately takes the role of the mother figure but the whole family is charmed when a man called Blues comes into their lives and leaves the 2nd eldest sister Tippie with two young children to care for (one of whom is Chevy). Devastating events follow and the family never truly recovers. Several years later, Leela her husband and daughters move to Toronto to try and leave their past behind and gradually the rest of the family follow living in the house in Toronto together.
I really enjoyed the dual setting of Trinidad and Toronto and I like how the author still wrote using the Trinidad dialect. I found the story a little slow going to begin with – there are a lot of characters introduced quite early on (there is a family tree in the front which really helped keep track of everyone) but I think because we didn’t really get to know any of them for a while, it took me a while to get into it. But once I did, and the secrets started to be revealed, I really enjoyed Wild Fires, and actually read the last half in one sitting.
Wild Fires is a female centred devastating family story which shows the complicated relationships between siblings and the impact grief can have. By the end I felt I knew each character and had sympathy for each despite their flaws. Wild Fires is a good character led novel which explores different cultures and I’m glad I stuck with it.
Thank you to Sophie for inviting me on the blog tour and Borough Press for a beautiful finished copy of the book! Don’t forget to check out these other awesome bloggers!
About the author:
Sophie Jai is a novelist represented by The Good Literary Agency. She was born and raised in Trinidad. She currently lives between Toronto and London, England.