The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts: A Novel (Hardcover)
“Mothers never die. Children love to resurrect us in they stories.”
Folktales and spirits animate this lively and unforgettable coming-of-age tale of two Jamaican-Trinidadian sisters in Brooklyn grappling with their mother’s illness, their father's infidelity, and the truth of their family's past
Sisters Zora and Sasha Porter are drifting apart. Bearing witness to their father’s violence and their mother’s worsening illness, an unsettled Zora escapes into her journal, dreaming of being a writer, while Sasha discovers sex and chest binding, spending more time with her new girlfriend than at home.
But the sisters, like their parents, must come together to answer to something more ancient and powerful than they know—and reckon with a family secret buried in the past. A tale told from the perspective of a mischievous narrator, featuring the Rolling Calf who haunts butchers, Mama Dglo who lives in the ocean, a vain tiger, and an outsmarted snake, The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts is set in a world as alive and unpredictable as Helen Oyeyemi’s.
Telling of the love between sisters who don’t always see eye to eye, this extraordinary debut novel is a celebration of the power of stories, asking, What happens to us when our stories are erased? Do we disappear? Or do we come back haunting?
About the Author
SORAYA PALMER is a Flatbush-born-and-raised writer and licensed social worker who advocates for survivors of gender-based violence who are facing criminal charges related to their abuse. She has been awarded a residency at Blue Mountain Center and interviewed for her work against police brutality, gentrification, and violence in The New York Times and BuzzFeed News. She lives in New York.
Ms., A Most Anticipated Title of the Year
One of Electric Literature's Books by Women of Color to Read This Year
The Week, A Most Anticipated Book of 2023
Goodreads, A Buzziest Debut Novel of the Year
"What happens to stories that are born of another land? When they migrate multiple times and across multiple generations? Soraya Palmer’s ambitious and passionate debut, The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts, is a thoughtful exploration of these questions . . . This is a book written with the gods of storytelling in mind; it highlights what stories can do—that it’s not just the stories that evolve with each telling, but we ourselves who are rearranged too." —Ingrid Rojas Contreras, The New York Times Book Review
"One of the Best New Books to Read in 2023." —Today
"The long and winding name of this assertive debut matches the magnitude of the stories within, which draw on folklore to capture the dynamic between two sisters, Zora and Sasha Porter. Their mother’s illness and their father’s violence has fractured their relationship, but their bond is reforged as an old family secret—and a surrounding cache of remarkable tales—roars to the surface." —Elle, A Most Anticipated Title of the Year
"In Soraya Palmer’s The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts, the fantastical plot flowers more like a century-old fable than a standard work of fiction, made up of colorfully strange characters . . . One cannot help but experience curiosity about this tale of two sisters who begin to live very different lives as they grow older. If you’re interested in colorful African American folklore, this book is unlikely to disappoint." —Jordannah Elizabeth, Amsterdam News
"In wild, firecracker prose, Palmer whirls the reader into a realm where the real and unreal are constantly changing places. It’s a stunning feat of storytelling in itself." —Suzi Feay, The Financial Times (UK)
“Like the West African folktales upon which the family relies, the novel highlights the power of story and myth to engage, teach, and soothe—and the enduring power of West African folklore in the diaspora.” —Donna Hemans, Oprah Daily
"[A] stunning debut novel . . . With magnetic prose and nuanced characters, Palmer has created a story where readers will be invested from page one." —Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
"In homage to the folktales that began in Africa, and took on new shapes in the Caribbean, The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts resists the expectation to linger over motivation, abandoning literary fiction’s 'why' to spotlight Afro-Caribbean folklore’s 'what' . . . [the novel] vividly conveys a multitude of profound emotional experiences that exist as squares of fabric: some are already joined by the bold seam of cause and effect, while others exist separately but for the thread of inference. With this debut, the author invites us to view long-held traditions in storytelling anew, and to meditate on why they endure. Troubling subjects and compelling questions abound. Nevertheless, much like those who have recounted the lore of Anansi and the rolling calf through the ages, Palmer trusts the capacity of the narrative to bear the weight of all things said and unsaid." —Gianni Washington, Chicago Review of Books
"The natural predator to the ordinary is the extraordinary . . . and delivering the extraordinary emerges as the core triumph of The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts." —John Domini, The Brooklyn Rail
"Palmer imbues her novel with both snappy pacing and deep feeling in a lovely prose voice with music and poetry behind it. The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts has big things to say about sisterhood and family; race, sexuality and class; life and death; and above all, the power of storytelling . . . The result is wide-ranging and thought-provoking—but also an immersive and sumptuous read. Palmer shines." —Shelf Awareness
"Vivid and otherworldly, this masterfully told novel brings together many threads of family history, personal memory, collective choices, sexuality, and a realm of mysteries and mythic creatures with deep origins and powers . . . A striking and imaginative debut." —Booklist
"Palmer is playful as a stylist without undermining her themes of family, identity, and belonging . . . [This] promising debut tells a family fable that rides on its well-developed protagonists." —Kirkus Reviews
"Palmer weaves folktales and magical realism in her moving debut . . . This will stick with readers." —Publishers Weekly
"At once mischievous and warm, Soraya Palmer’s voice will bewitch you from the very first page, leading you through the complexities of sisterhood and motherhood, belonging and loss. The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts illuminates the transformative power of storytelling itself, and reminds you that the most powerful and potent family stories are as cursed as they are nourishing." —Mina Seçkin, author of The Four Humors
"Playful and deft, Palmer’s debut novel spans the brownstones of Brooklyn to the shores of Jamaica and Trinidad, and Tobago. This is a tale that honors the complicated love between immigrant families, the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood, and, above all, the infinite power of storytelling: to haunt, heal, and conjure entire universes into existence." —Daphne Palasi Andreades, author of Brown Girls
"Prismatic and dazzling, Palmer's debut entrances with its stories-within-stories structure and loving portrayal of two sisters coming into their own power while grappling with family secrets and tales untold. Anansi and other folkloric figures and deities of their Jamaican Trinidadian heritage weave throughout the novel, transforming from teller to teller, from one generation to the next—at times haunting or healing, seductive or terrifying. Palmer's ever-rippling prose also shifts deftly—from magical to macabre, playful to tender, always with compassion for all." —Angela Mi Young Hur, author of Folklorn
"Soraya Palmer’s epic, sweeping debut contains multitudes: it is tender, daring, funny, and exquisitely written. It is a love letter to sisterhood that believes in the power of stories to transform. This book certainly transformed me." —Gabriella Burnham, author of It is Wood, It is Stone
"The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts is an all-consuming novel about sisterhood, motherhood, belonging, loss, and self-discovery. Soraya Palmer's characters are unparalleled and her prose is musical. Read this novel with a sibling, a cousin, or a very close friend." —De'Shawn Charles Winslow, author of In the West Mills
"The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts envisions family as always in motion, careening through history, connection, attachment, discovery and warmth, with all the pain, loss, and even violence that might include. Expertly paced, deeply imagined, by turns playful and heartbreaking, I love the way this novel understands that sometimes nothing will sustain us except the right story that is truer than true." —Madeline ffitch, author of Stay and Fight