Also noted

Other new and recent books

I Have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems, by Grace Nichols (Bloodaxe Books, ISBN 978-1-85224-858-1, 191 pp), a selection of verse written over nearly a quarter-century by the Guyanese poet, resident in Britain since 1977. Still best known for her first two books, I Is a Long-Memoried Woman (1983, winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize) and The Fat Black Woman’s Poems (1984), Nichols ranges in tone from the tragic to the comic, and her lyrical voice is slyly defiant — against cultural expectations, social conventions, historical hurts. “Poverty is the price / we pay for the sun girl,” concludes one poem. Another, titled “The Fat Black Woman’s Motto on Her Bedroom Door”, runs to all of two capitalised lines: “IT’S BETTER TO DIE IN THE FLESH OF HOPE / THAN TO LIVE IN THE SLIMNESS OF DESPAIR.”

Considering Woman I and II, by Velma Pollard (Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 978-1845-2316-9-9, 161 pp), a collection of “short stories, fables, and memoir” about the lives of Jamaican women — their birth, adolescence, love, marriage, death, happiness, sorrow, pleasure, and pain. The first half of this volume reprints work orignally published in 1989; the pieces in the second half engage their predecessors in conversation on topics both timely and timeless. The concluding “Better Tales” offer assurances of hope in the midst of adversity, and despite difficult odds.

Perception’s Knife, by Sheilah Solomon (self-published, 62 pp), a collection of poems by a Jamaican long resident in Trinidad, known for her civic activism. These gentle meditations on friendship, love, and memory suggest a thoughtful, broad-minded sensibility. Occasionally sentimental, their tone is more often wry; they have an eye for the world’s sharp peculiarities: “Our little sight is bounded by our genes . . . / So too with sound. / Whales sing too low / for us; dogs / hear too high.”

Moving Right Along: Caribbean Stories in Honour of John Cropper, ed. Funso Aiyejina with Judy Stone (Lexicon Trinidad, ISBN 978-976-631-058-5, 135 pp), an anthology of short fiction by participants in the Cropper Foundation Writers’ Workshop in Trinidad, dedicated to its co-founder, the late John Cropper. Since its launch in 2000, the workshop has made a space for emerging writers from across the Caribbean to practise their craft, share their work with each other, and learn from distinguished mentors. Moving Right Along collects pieces by twenty Cropper alumni, including subsequent prizewinners like Kei Miller and Tiphanie Yanique. Their subjects and styles are as various as their home territories, and this volume is an apt tribute to an organisation that has already played a crucial role in stimulating contemporary Caribbean letters.

Trinidad’s French Legacy, by Anthony de Verteuil, C.S.Sp. (Litho Press, ISBN 978-976-95299-0-8, 380 pp), a typically spirited “series of sketches” of Trinidadian French Creole culture, by one of the Caribbean’s most tireless and readable social historians. Not a definitive survey — which de Verteuil explains “would involve several volumes and did not appeal to me” — it rather collects biographical essays on eleven key historical figures such as the historian Gustave Borde, the ornithologist Antoine Leotaud, the journalist Philip Rostant, and the artist Michael-Jean Cazabon, with chapters on Catholicism and Carnival for good measure. Drawing both on Trinidad’s public archives and various collections of family papers, the volume is replete with names, dates, anecdotes, and family trees, plus old photographs, maps, and drawings — and frequent injections of the author’s bone-dry wit.

Caribbean Chemistry: Tales from St Kitts, by Christopher Vanier (Kingston University Press, ISBN 978-1-899999-45-3, 376 pp), an engaging memoir by a retired engineer born in St Kitts in 1942. Educated in Antigua, Vanier won a scholarship to Cambridge University, later studied at the British Institute of Paris, and now lives between France and Britain. His coming-of-age story combines tales of boyhood scrapes with musings on identity and independence, and captures details of Vanier’s home island five decades ago with the verve suggested by his opening sentence: “Ah, to be an embryo again!”

Created in the West Indies: Caribbean Perspectives on V.S. Naipaul, ed. Jennifer Rahim and Barbara Lalla (Ian Randle Publishers, ISBN 978-976-637-412-9, 234 pp), a collection of essays from a symposium and lecture series at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, in 2007, commemorating the seventy-fifth birthday of Trinidad’s most famous literary figure. No writer has vexed Caribbean critics more utterly — indeed deliberately — than Naipaul. The thirteen essays here reflect a half-century of debate over his subjects and themes, his style and authorial stance, and his life and personality as well. They range from Edward Baugh on Naipaul’s “Making and Self-Making” to Gordon Rohlehr on “The Confessional Element in Naipaul’s Fiction” to Bridget Brereton on “Naipaul’s Sense of History”.

Cuba and the Fall: Christian Text and Queer Narrative in the Fiction of José Lezama Lima and Reinaldo Arenas, by Eduardo González (University of Virginia Press, ISBN 978-0-8139-2982-8, 296 pp), a study of elements of the Christian belief in “the fall” and possible redemption in the work of two canonical writers whose books express a Cuban homoerotic sensibility. González describes Cuba and the Fall as “an old-fashioned study of literary character,” ultimately concerned with “instances of human subjection to the force of character under pressure by the social constraints and forms of hate that shape it.”

Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae, and Rastafari in Japan, by Marvin D. Sterling (Duke University Press, ISBN 978-0-8223-4722-4, 299 pp), an ethnographic analysis of Japanese engagement with elements of Jamaican popular culture. Charting the popularity of music, dance, and Rastafari belief among Japanese audiences — via festivals and concerts, websites and music videos — Sterling suggests “alternative discourses” of ethnicity beyond “an imagination of race seen only in Western and non-Western terms,” even as Japanese reggae and dancehall musicians reshape “the multivalently politicised performative fields of an Afro-Asian encounter.”


The Caribbean Review of Books, March 2011