Havana harbour

Under the weather

David Knight, Jr, reviews Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution, by Sherry Johnson:

“New evidence suggests that the period between the years 1748 and 1804 — a time of great political upheaval, often referred to as the Age of Revolution — experienced climate fluctuations consistent with what we know today as the El Niño and La Niña cycles . . . Johnson is curious whether the Age of Revolution’s apparent political instability and its extreme weather patterns are purely coincidental — and if not, how they are connected within the geographic area she studies.”

Image above: view of Havana from Géographie complète et universelle (1855), by Malthe Conrad Bruun. Public domain image posted at Flickr by the British Library

botánica in new york city

At the Kiosk of La Gitana

A poem by Loretta Collins Klobah:

“Mira, guapo, I have something for you.
I have tucked it here, close to my heart.
Don’t be tímido, voilà! Choose a packet.
Well, take it out; tetas don’t bite . . .”

Image above: the display window of a Puerto Rican botánica in New York City. From a photograph by Matt Green, posted at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

irenee shaw the secret

The self, centred

Nicole Smythe-Johnson reviews See Me Here: A Survey of Contemporary Self-Portraits from the Caribbean, edited by Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown:

“The attitude of Barbadian Sheena Rose’s Too Much Make-Up II (2013) on the front cover and the peek-a-boo of fellow Barbadian Ewan Atkinson’s Bubalups/Mother Sally: Private Audition (2013) on the inside cover index the spirit of what follows. These works are not shy, they are not polite. They confront, they shock, they play, stretching the concept of the self, through the other and beyond.”

Image above: The Secret (1992), by Irénée Shaw; oil on canvas, 32 x 32 inches. Courtesy Robert & Christopher Publishers

Detail of relief on the Arc de Triomphe

Portrait of a dictator

J. Michael Dash revisits Alejo Carpentier’s Reasons of State:

“The novel’s real purpose is to invert Descartes’s Discourse on Method. While the French philosopher rigorously argued that the first principle of philosophy was the rational self, in Carpentier’s novel this self has become a voluble erotomane given over to language which is ‘luxuriant, sonorous, baroque, Ciceronian, original in imagery, implacable in epithets, sweeping in its crescendos.’”

Image above: detail of La Marseillaise by sculptor François Rude, a relief on the Arc de Triomphe, Paris. From a photograph by Richard Mortel, posted at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Still from Mala Mala

In transition

Isabel Guzzardo reviews Mala Mala, a documentary film directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles:

Mala Mala follows nine transsexual or transgender individuals, each with vastly different opinions and experiences, forming a group that is far from homogenous . . . One must also consider the central location of the film, Puerto Rico: a country whose diffuse political status of ‘free associated state’ keeps it in permanent transition.”

Image above: Queen Bee Ho, one of the subjects of Mala Mala

red shovel

From the CRB archive:

Grime is not always grime

Fiction by the late Anthony C. Winkler, excerpted from his novel Dog War, and first published in the August 2006 CRB:

“You get to Miami from Jamaica by crowding aboard a brushed-metal pipe outfitted with clumsy appendages and pretending that it was right-minded and Christian to sit with strangers thirty thousand feet up in the breeze as if beneath your feet was the comforting solidity of God’s good ground. Or so it struck Precious Higginson, who on the roaring and quivering take-off of her flight muttered a prayer aloud that drew an inquisitive stare from the businessman sitting next to her.”

Image above: posted at Flickr by Adam Bindslev under a Creative Commons license

Dustjacket of first edition of In the Castle of My Skin

Circa 1953

The CRB’s “Circa” column is an experiment in literary time travel: classic books of Caribbean literature reviewed by writers of the present, as though they were transported back to the time of original publication, and are unaware of the books’ subsequent reputation or their authors’ later careers. First in the series is Karen Lord on In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming’s debut novel:

“One hundred years hence, or even less, what injustices and atrocities will we be taught to forget? What new myths will we repeat to ourselves? Will there be new empires for our loyalties, new Americas for our yearnings, new Panamas for our earnings? Or will we remain as we have been for so long, two hundred to three hundred thousand souls with big dreams on a small rock?”

Image above: dust jacket of the first edition of In the Castle of My Skin, with an illustration by Denis Williams; from the H.D. Carberry Collection of Caribbean Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago Library, Special Collections and University Archives. Posted at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

East Indian Woman, Trinidad, B.W.I.

Into the dark waters

Nishant Batsha reviews Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture, by Gaiutra Bahadur:

“In seeking out her great-grandmother and the thousands of women who left India to labour abroad, Bahadur discovers that only some narratives can be found. Others, however, can only begin and end in question marks. She knows such punctuation invites the reader into a moment of pause — of awe, of horror, of wonder.”

Image above: Detail of East Indian, Trinidad, B.W.I., a postcard from the Michael Goldberg Collection, courtesy the Alma Jordan Library, University of the West Indies, St Augustine


The CRB’s online archive includes the full contents of every issue since 2009, and selections from older editions. In the coming months, we will add the full contents of every past issue to the new archive and subject index.