The 2010 CRB books of the year
In the four issues published in 2010, the CRB reviewed forty-one books, and “noticed” a further twenty in our “Also noted” column. (Book reviews accounted for roughly half of the magazine’s coverage last year, with interviews, essays, poems, fiction, and pieces on art, film, and music making up the other half of our contents.)
Because of the year-long gap in publication before our relaunch in May 2010, many of the reviews the CRB published last year actually covered books dating back to early 2009. And a number of 2010 titles are still in our editorial pipeline — it will take us a while yet to catch up with the ever-swelling flood of new books from and about the Caribbean.
That very plenitude also makes it difficult for any single reader to keep up. So, as we have done at the ends of previous years, the CRB’s editors have assembled a short (and necessarily partial) list of the standout Caribbean books of 2010.
As before, we’ve chosen books that should interest general readers across the Caribbean — therefore excluding specialist scholarly titles. They range from stimulating literary debuts to works by and about already-canonical figures; from illuminating new research and models for understanding Caribbean society to powerful images of a region that can seem forever surprising in its diversity. These are the CRB’s modest suggestions for the 2010 books that deserve a permanent place on our readers’ bookshelves.
There are eleven books on our list: four of fiction, three of poems, one biography, a book of literary essays, works of anthropology and cultural studies, and an album of photographs. In alphabetical order:
Caribbean Middlebrow: Leisure Culture and the Middle Class, by Belinda Edmondson
An appropriately entertaining history of middle-class popular culture in the Caribbean from the late nineteenth century to the present, focusing on early newspaper culture, the “gentrification” of dialect poetry, jazz and literary festivals, and the recent pop fiction of writers like Colin Channer. (Reviewed in the July 2010 CRB.)
Changó, the Biggest Badass, by Manuel Zapata Olivella, trans. Jonathan Tittler
The first English translation of the extraordinary novel Changó, el gran putas (1983) by the late Afro-Colombian writer. An epic account of the African presence in the New World, Changó covers six centuries and a geography ranging from Brazil to New York, as the Orishas of the Yoruba pantheon collide with historical figures like Toussaint L’Ouverture, Simón Bolívar, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X.
Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, by Edwidge Danticat
These twelve essays by the celebrated Haitian author are deeply felt and deeply intelligent mediations on art and exile, on a writer’s responsibilities, privileges, and perils, and the enduring value of creativity in even the most oppressed circumstances. (Read an excerpt from the title essay in the September 2010 CRB.)
Dog-Heart, by Diana McCaulay
McCaulay’s fiction debut is a powerful, troubling portrait of contemporary Jamaica told through the voices of the ghetto youth Dexter and the uptown “browning” Sahara, brought together by chance and linked by bonds of need and guilt, hope and despair in a city where love isn’t all you need. (Reviewed in the November 2010 CRB.)
How to Escape from a Leper Colony, by Tiphanie Yanique
This first book of short fiction by a young writer from St Thomas introduces a lyrical, enticing new voice. Yanique’s narrative playfulness encompasses social realism, historical romance, and richly imagined allegorical fantasy. (Reviewed in the July 2010 CRB.)
I Am a Japanese Writer, by Dany Laferrière, trans. David Homel
The Haitian writer’s 2008 novel Je suis un écrivain japonais, now translated into English, is a sardonic and furiously intelligent exploration of personal, cultural, national, and linguistic identity in the form of a picaresque adventure. (Reviewed in the November 2010 CRB.)
Kanaval: Vodou, Politics, and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti, by Leah Gordon (with essays by Madison Smartt Bell, Don Cosentino, Richard Fleming, Kathy Smith, and Myron Beasley)
A thrilling portfolio of black and white photographs of Carnival masqueraders in Jacmel, Haiti, by the British photographer. Taken over a period of two decades, and accompanied by a series of oral histories recorded by Gordon, these images suggest a historical resilience and creative defiance in the face of tragedy both natural and man-made.
A Leaf in His Ear: Collected Poems, by Mahadai Das
Assembling the late Guyanese poet’s three previous books with her uncollected and unpublished poems, A Leaf in His Ear makes possible an overdue assessment of Das’s achievement, from the militant patriotism of her earliest poems to her hauntingly oblique final lyrics. (Reviewed in the September 2010 CRB.)
Running the Dusk, by Christian Campbell
The Bahamian poet’s debut collection asserts a forceful presence in contemporary Caribbean letters. “At the crossroads between reverence and irreverence,” Campbell re-imagines history, ethnicity, and cultural tradition with bold — even boastful — confidence. (Read an interview with Campbell in the July 2010 CRB.)
Three Ancient Colonies: Caribbean Themes and Variations, by Sidney W. Mintz
Based on three lectures delivered in 2003 by the eminent American anthropologist, Three Ancient Colonies draws on Mintz’s long-term fieldwork in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Jamaica to offer fresh approaches to understanding the Caribbean past and present. (Reviewed in the July 2010 CRB.)
White Egrets, by Derek Walcott
Published as Walcott entered his ninth decade, this meditation on age and mortality is simultaneously a celebration of beauty, art, and the too-fleeting pleasures of mind and body. It opens with chessmen on a board summoning an astonishing sweep of history, and ends with a vision of cloud slowly covering an island like the turn of a final page. (Reviewed in the November 2010 CRB.)
The Caribbean Review of Books, January 2011