Also noted

Other new and recent books

Possession, by Cecil Gray (Lilibel Pubications, ISBN 978-0-9681745-5-5, 71 pp), the seventh collection of poems by the Trinidadian writer, now resident in Canada. Both grammatically and thematically, these are poems chiefly of the past tense. From the vantage point of his ninth decade — frequently elegiac, occasionally nostalgic, but never sentimental — Gray meditates on the gap between ambition and achievement, desire and fulfilment. His plainspoken verse is illuminated by a faith that the losses of time can be redeemed by art. “If I could go back and observe things again,” he writes in “Still Life”, “I would draw in moments like a fisherman, / and wrap them in phrases like strands of a seine.”

So Much Things to Say: 100 Calabash Poets, ed. Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer (Akashic, ISBN 978-1-936070-07-7, 224 pp), an anthology published to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Calabash International Literary Festival, held every May in Treasure Beach, Jamaica, since 2000. Collecting a hundred poems by a hundred poets who have read at Calabash over the decade, and arranged not by theme but by length (“small, medium, large, extra large”), this is more of a mixed bag than most anthologies. But it gives an accurate sense of the festival’s democratic atmosphere, in which open-mike amateurs can make as big a splash as Nobel Prize winners. And the book’s range is wide and varied enough that, for once, the old cliché “something for everyone” is literal truth.

Dilemmas of Deokie, by Carol Sammy (Heinemann, ISBN 978-1-4082-3128-9, 188 pp), a coming-of-age story set in present-day Trinidad, the first novel by a Trinidadian teacher. Deokie Ramoutar — nineteen years old, a bookish law student — bears the weight of her working-class family’s financial ambitions. Her “dilemmas” are the typical social pressures of the contemporary Caribbean: career decisions, the balance between personal happiness and family expectations, the mundane chores and hustles required to keep body and soul together in a small society that infrequently resembles the tourist-board notion of tropical paradise.

The Stolen Cascadura, by Beverley-Ann Scott (Authorhouse, ISBN 978-1-4343-3287-5, 389 pp), a novel about class advantage and social stigma in contemporary Trinidad, intended for young adult readers. Four teenagers from widely divergent backgrounds are drawn together by a series of dramatic events and what the first-time author describes as “the harsh realities of our times”: crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, family breakdown (the usual suspects). Scott’s foreword makes the book’s didactic purposes plain: the characters “are opportunities for reflection, and their responses to the challenges they face allow us to embrace their humanness, their weakness, and their strength.”

Cuba in the Shadow of Change: Daily Life in the Twilight of the Revolution, by Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb (University Press of Florida, ISBN 978-0-8130-3369-3, 254 pp), a study of Cuba’s “un-theorised and under-described” new middle class, “a shadow public whose activity illuminates the cultural shifts and social and economic transformations taking place in Cuba in an era of late socialism.” These “citizen-consumers,” as Rosenberg Weinreb calls them, are “quietly in search of a life with basic luxuries,” which range from Johnson’s Baby Shampoo to broadband Internet access. She disputes the notion that “Cubans accept material scarcity as part of revolutionary sacrifice.” The book’s three sections look at questions of privacy, access to goods and resources, the freedom to complain, and the freedom to travel — all taken for granted by citizens of most other Caribbean countries.

The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo, by Lauren Derby (Duke University Press, ISBN 978-0-8223-4482-7, 410 pp), “a cultural history of the Trujillo regime” in the Dominican Republic (1930–1961) “as seen through the microcosm of Santo Domingo.” “Although the violence of the regime has inspired accounts of heroes and villains,” Derby writes, “this study enters a more murky quotidian terrain where most people lived in a space of ambivalence and complicity.” She argues that Trujillo used a “politics of patronage” to support his personal charisma and “one of the longest and most repressive authoritarian regimes in Latin America, characterised by bouts of extreme carnage.”

Mainland Passage: The Cultural Anomaly of Puerto Rico, by Ramón E. Soto-Crespo (University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 978-0-8166-5588-5, 169 pp), a study of the ways Puerto Rican writers and intellectuals have imagined and understood their cultural identity in the face of massive migration to the United States. (A third of the population of the island migrated to the US between 1940 and 1950.) “The mainland passage is primordially an actual historical event,” Soto-Crespo writes, “but when examined seriously it also elucidates a unique conceptual formation that changes the perspective we have cultivated up to this point on American, Caribbean, and Puerto Rican identities.” The result: “a post-insular view of nationhood.”

Caribbean Street Food, series editor Anu Lakhan: Barbados, by Peter Laurie, with photographs by Mike Toy (Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 978-1-4050-8427-7, 112 pp); Jamaica, by Kellie Magnus, with photographs by Varun Baker (Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 978-1-4050-8425-3, 112 pp); Trinidad and Tobago, by Anu Lakhan, with photographs by Alex Smailes (Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 978-1-4050-8426-0, 96 pp), pocket-size guides to “the best places to eat on the street.” “Most of the famous Caribbean foods are street foods,” writes Lakhan. “Even if you can order them at restaurants, the best ones are usually roadside: doubles and roti in Trinidad; jerk and pepper shrimp in Jamaica; everything you could want of and from a fish in Barbados.” Opinionated, jauntily written, amply illustrated, the three guides decline to offer do-it-yourself recipes: quite properly, they direct their readers outdoors to the real thing.


The Caribbean Review of Books, September 2010