Popisho is a fictional, Carribean-esque island. What sets its people apart from other nations is that Popisho citizens are born with ‘cors’, magical ability that appears at some point in childhood. These can be both blessing and curse; one man’s ability to tell someone is lying causes him pain. Others have fantastical bodily quirks, such as eyes in unexpected places. People pluck and eat butterflies from the air for their intoxicating qualities; a few take it too far and become addicted to moth.
Another word from Popisho vocabulary is ‘macaenus’ - the special office of island chef, a respected public figure. Xavier runs the Torn Poem restaurant, which feeds most citizens at some point, strictly invitation only and names chosen randomly. When seated, guests are served a meal tailored specifically to their deepest satisfactions, in a once in a lifetime experience.
There are hints at the politics and economics of the setting. A toy factory looms on the horizon, once supplying locals with beautiful wooden dolls and puppets, now export-only. There’s a social underclass who are kinder to the dead Popisho spirits still walking the earth. Discontent appears as anonymous orange graffiti asking what’s the alternative.
But ultimately, while the terrain of Popisho is rich to explore, the thrust of the book’s momentum is love and lust, driven by the forthcoming marriage of the Governor’s daughter, and Xavier’s feelings about old flings. As the ceremony creeps closer, the whole island descends into a Bacchanalian frenzy, with physalis fruit falling from the sky. In Ross’ prose, the finale of a beauty pageant reads like mythical Gods circling one another. This One Sky Day is a sensual, imaginative, trippy delight.
And a tip of the hat to publisher Faber, on creating a book that can be judged by its cover, a colourful, mottled weaving of bright butterfly colours, and in the edition I have, some of the best sprayed edges* I’ve seen. (*Industry speak for the outside of the pages, visible when a book is closed, coloured for extra design pizazz.)