The 2008 CRB books of the year

The CRB reviewed fifty books in 2008, and “noticed” another thirty-five in our “Also noted” column. (The tally is a little lower than in 2007. The magazine actually published more pages in 2008, but we devoted a greater proportion of them to covering visual arts and film, and to new poems, stories, and essays.) Our longish lead-time means that some books from the latter part of 2008 will actually be reviewed in our pages in 2009.

Of all the books that passed over our desks and through our hands last year — books of fiction and poems and essays, biographies and autobiographies, books on history and current affairs, art and culture — which ones do the CRB’s editors believe should find a permanent place on our readers’ bookshelves? As we did at the end of 2007, we’ve asked our editors and most regular contributors to name their standout Caribbean books of the last twelve months in order to compile the following list.

Once more, we have chosen books that ought to interest general readers across the Caribbean, excluding specialist scholarly titles. There are ten books on our list: two novels, two books of poems, two anthologies, a biography, a memoir, an illustrated volume of art history, and one book hard to categorise.

On 31 December, we announced the 2008 CRB books of the year at Antilles, our weblog. We list them again now for readers of our print edition. In alphabetical order:

After-Image, by Dennis Scott, ed. Mervyn Morris
A posthumous selection of poems by the much-missed Jamaican writer. Dating mostly from the last years of his life, these poems seem to foreshadow Scott’s untimely departure. (Reviewed in the November 2008 CRB.)

Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to Today, ed. Nathalie Bondil
This massive exhibition catalogue looks at the art of modern Cuba against the country’s tempestuous history over the last century and a half — reproducing works from the national collections alongside documentary photographs and political propaganda. (Reviewed in the August 2008 CRB.)

Horses in Her Hair: A Granddaughter’s Story, by Rachel Manley
Manley’s family memoir tells the story of her grandmother Edna, wife of Jamaica’s first premier and a cultural icon in her own right. Gently, eloquently, Manley offers an assessment of a woman who was a legend in her time.

Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture, by B.W. Higman
At once a cultural history, an anthropological study, and an encyclopedia of flora and fauna — fish, flesh, and fowl — Higman’s comprehensive survey of “food practices” in Jamaica is a surprisingly entertaining miscellany of historical references, statistics, and recipes. (Reviewed in the November 2008 CRB.)

Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Gay and Lesbian Writing from the Antilles, ed. Thomas Glave
An anthology of fiction, poems, essays, and memoirs confronting one of the contemporary Caribbean’s areas of darkness. These voices insist that gay and lesbian writers (and readers) have a central place in the Caribbean literary tradition. (Reviewed in the November 2008 CRB.)

Pynter Bender, by Jacob Ross
This epic first novel tells the strange and densely lyrical story of the title character’s childhood and adolescence in an unnamed island shadowed by a sinister dictator. Pynter’s movement from his rural home village to the confusions of urban life mirror his island’s social evolution. (Reviewed in this issue.)

The Same Earth, by Kei Miller
The first novel by an accomplished younger Caribbean writer shows the development of the gifts Miller displayed in his previous books of poems and short fiction: narrative energy, wry humour, and a knowingness about the world as tender as it is unsparing. (Reviewed in the November 2008 CRB.)

Selected Poems, by Ian McDonald, ed. Edward Baugh
This career-summing volume by an eminent Caribbean man of letters covers six decades. McDonald’s poems are scrupulously attentive to the world and its joys and pains; only rarely does lyrical talent so closely coincide with generosity of spirit. (Reviewed in this issue.)

Trinidad Noir, ed. Lisa Allen-Agostini and Jeanne Mason
This bold anthology of short fiction stares unblinking into the dark corners of the contemporary Caribbean, and reminds us that these islands have always been home to violence and brutality and things we’d rather forget.

The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of V.S. Naipaul, by Patrick French
French’s biography of the Caribbean’s most polarising writer, a writer we love to hate and hate to love, is a gripping study of a literary intelligence prepared to destroy everything in its path in its quest to understand the world. (Reviewed in the November 2008 CRB.)


The Caribbean Review of Books, February 2009