Shola von Reinhold's 'Lote' - a literary tour de force

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday July 5, 2022
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Author Shola von Reinhold
Author Shola von Reinhold

Author Shola von Reinhold's very first book, "Lote," is a tour de force. It has already won the 2021 Republic of Consciousness Prize and the James Tait Black Prize, and many more are sure to follow.

The luscious, textured writing is astonishingly good, full of surprises and little-known information, such as the existence of a class of black angels called the Luxuries (alongside the seraphim, archangels, etc.), found in Ethiopian lore, but apparently omitted from Western religious and art history.

Mathilde, the young protagonist and narrator of the book, is a seriously talented, educated, and practically homeless underachiever who stumbles onto fascinating research into the Luxuries when she discovers a photograph of poet Hermia Drumm (the fictional composite of several Black artists/socialites invented by Reinhold) while volunteering at the National Portrait Gallery Archive in London.

Hermia Drumm, like Josephine Baker, was an American who found greener pastures for herself in Europe in the 1920s and '30s, even dubbing herself Princess Hermia from a distant land.

It turns out that Hermia Drumm revived a secret society called Lote with artists like Stephen Tennet (the real-life queer inspiration for Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshed Revisited"), British-born writer, poet, publisher and activist Nancy Cunard, and Black Scottish poet Richard Bruce Nugent known for the Bright Young Things and the Bloomsbury Group.

A century after they made their mark, Matilde communes with these long-gone artists in daydreams she calls her transfixions. Not unlike "holy rapture," they give her a tangible spiritual connection to these artists, her only peers at times in her world.

As she continues her research, Matilde must sort out the nature of their secret society, whether they were based on Homer's mythical Lotus-Eaters (said to have lived on the Libyan coast in peaceful bliss) or have some other origin, the nature of the Luxuries, and what to do with this fascinating information.

Fortunately, pecuniarily speaking, she joins a ridiculously nihilistic writers' residency of 'Thought Artists' (who seek to eliminate all audiences of their work, among other self-defeating notions!) in the "distressingly beautiful" town of Dun (because Hermia Drumm lived in Dun). There Matilde joins forces with trans character and local resident Erskine-Lily. Together, they immerse themselves in the magical world of Lote.

I must admit, talk of this book being part of the Black Mediocrity movement — that every person and every Black person should be valued as people in and of themselves whether or not they bring excellence to the table — in no way prepared me for how truly brilliant the book is on every level, leaving the reader very much wanting more.

an excerpt:

"...The Book of the Luxuries says that the Greeks wiped out the people they called the Lotus Eaters and tells us that Herodotus situated them in North Africa. Others West.

"The Luxuries are the primordial lotus-eater. Indeed, they were thought to have disappeared with the Lotophagi until they reappeared one day in a town in order to bequeath The Book of the Luxuries. But they were mistaken for wicked spirits, for demonic tempters, and sealed inside a pillar.

"There was a woman known to visit this pillar, having observed the punishment of the Beings from her rooftop. She returned nightly, whispering to the interior spirits.

"On her rooftop one morning she noted a strange flower, growing from a crevice, something like a lily — or a lotus — but as hard as shell. She plucked this flower and took it to the pillar where she cupped it against the stone and put her ear to it and could hear a form of music inside. The music described a system. In this way, the inhabitants of the pillar dictated to her the Book.

"In accordance with their system she grew a secret lotus garden upon her roof and spent her days in idleness and luxury, cultivating her senses. The End!"

'Lote' by Shola von Reinhold, $19,95. Duke University Press

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