Bookshelf (Autumn 1994)

New books from and about the Caribbean

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An Island is a World

Samuel Selvon (TSAR, Canada 1993)

Sam Selvon’s neglected second novel, first published in 1955, was republished shortly before his death in April. Ken Ramchand’s introduction puts the book in context of post-war Trinidad. While an earlier generation of Indians dreamed of returning to India, the new generation longs to migrate, to strike out on its own and discover new lands. Two brothers decide to try their luck. Foster goes to England, Rufus to the United States, to search for themselves. Selvon’s humour, his vivid sense of place and his touching characterisation all shine out in this novel and point to the achievements of his later work. This is perhaps Selvon’s most autobiographical book.

The Real Taste of Jamaica

Enid Donaldson (Ian Randle Publishers 1993)

Food lovers will be delighted with Enid Donaldson’s debut book, The Taste of Jamaica, a fine hardcover cookbook brimming with over 200 spicy Jamaican recipes and illustrated with Ray Chen’s mouthwatering photography. Recipes like Mannish Water, Matrimony and Dip and Fall Back are sure to inspire amateur cooks. Ms Donaldson is a popular Jamaican television cook and contributes a weekly food column to The Gleaner newspaper. This book became a reality, she says, because people were forgetting old favourites like Saturday beef soup and freshly baked potatoes on a Sunday afternoon. Ms Donaldson has revived them all and drawn upon Jamaica’s mixed culinary background to serve up dishes that hail from Lebanon, China, Africa and many other places. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.

Carib Breeze

Dorothy Whitfield (lan Randle Publishers, Kingston, Jamaica 1993)

Dorothy Whitfield was the principal of St Hugh’s Preparatory School in Jamaica for 28 years; her poems in this attractive collection for young children are soaked in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the Caribbean. The book is illustrated with colourful drawings by children: kites soaring above jacaranda tress, emerald and green water. There’s a sailor boy from Grand Cayman, a mermaid combing her sea-green hair, saucy Sam the sailor man, a sno-cone man and a peanut man. Vivid descriptions abound: the poems explore Jamaican folk characters such as the duppy, mermaid and anancy.

Antigua and Barbuda: A Little Bit of Paradise

(Hansib Publishing 1994)

Here is an attractive, colourful, informative coffee-table book that focuses on one of the Caribbean’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s chock full of glorious images: untouched beaches, luxuriant rainforests, underwater locations, smiling faces, dashing cricketers, and of course Antigua’s exciting Carnival and the event of the year, it’s incomparable Sailing Week. Besides the glossy pictures of Alan Aflak, Ron Sanders’s text provides a lot of background on the island’s history and politics, with a chapter reserved for prospective investors. If you’ve been to these islands before, this book functions as a memorable souvenir; if that pleasure is still in store, A Little Bit of Paradise will surely hasten your arrival.

Turner: New and Selected Poems

David Dabydeen (Jonathan Cape 1994)

David Dabydeen, Guyana-born, has been making a solid reputation for himself as a poet and novelist, as well as teaching at the University of Warwick in England. His novels The Intended and Disappearance, and his collections of poetry Slave Song and Coolie Odyssey, have all been well received; now comes a new collection whose centrepiece is a long, 40-page poem called Turner. It takes as a starting point Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship (its full title was Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying), and is a passionate response to the casual inhumanity of the picture and the praise that was showered on it. This expands into a meditation on the miserable legacies of colonialism and slavery. It’s an ingenious work, full of controlled fury, written in accessible language and long rhythms like ocean waves. The other poems in the collection are from Dabydeen’s earlier books, several written in creole (with translations), and represent the best of his early work.

Jamaica In Focus

Marcel Barer (Latin American Bureau/Ian Randle Publishers 1993)

This is the first in a series of guides covering Central and South America and the Caribbean. As the sub-title (“A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture”) makes clear, this is no casual guidebook but a serious review which digs beneath the cliches. It tackles the history, people and politics of Jamaica and examines the links with present day economic hardship and poverty. But Jamaica is also the scene of intense cultural activity and geographical beauty. It is an island which breathes poetry, music and religion. This is a slim book, easy to carry around and packed with useful information. A fold-out map at the back is sure to come in handy.

AfroCuba

Pedro Perez Sarduy and Jean Stubbs (ed.) (Ocean Press/Latin American Bureau 1993)

This is a collection of Cuban writing on race, politics and culture; it explores black consciousness in Cuba through the eyes of its writers, scholars and artists. The editors have put together a wealth of material, most of it written since the 1959 revolution. Some of these voices have never been heard, which gives the book extra power. The contributions come in the form of poetry, fiction, political analysis and anthropology, and together offer a deeper understanding of the complex cultural make-up of Cuba.

Zouk: World Music in the West Indies

Jocelyne Guilbault (University of Chicago Press 1993)

This is an academic study of the political, socio-economic and musical background of popular music in four Caribbean islands: Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Lucia and Dominica. Guilbault, associate professor of music at the University of Ottawa, examines the island roots and the huge popularity of zouk music in the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, and shows how the music affects Caribbean life and how it speaks to West Indians struggling for individual and national identity. It’s accompanied by a compact disc which looks at the forerunners of zouk such as beguine and cadence-lypsos; Haitian music and cadence feature prominently in the book, and there is a detailed study of the emergence of zouk in the 1980s.

The Palace of the White Skunks

Reinaldo Arenas (Penguin 1993)

The Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas died of AIDS in 1990, the year when this novel was first published. It was the second in a proposed quintet and is a brilliant, impressionistic portrait of Cuba on the eve of its 1959 revolution. Arenas attracted much attention with the release of his memoirs Before Night Falls: a poet and playwright as well as a novelist, his work is remarkable for its passion and its powerful commitment to freedom. Arenas was expelled from Cuba in 1980, having incurred the wrath of the powers that be because of his work and his homosexuality, and came to the United States with the Mariel boat lift. In this novel, Fortunato, a dreamy sullen boy, is trapped in a house full of abandoned aunts. As Castro’s 1959 revolution gathers pace, Fortunato is faced with his own emerging sense of identity and sexuality. Arenas has been described by Octavio Paz as “a remarkable writer as much for his talent as for his intellectual dignity”

Karl and Other Stories

Velma Pollard (Longman Caribbean Writers 1994)

Velma Pollard’s novella Karl won her the Casas de las Americas literary prize in 1992, and with good reason. Karl tells the story of a young Jamaican boy who is academically accomplished with (it would seem) the world at his feet. But he cannot find fulfillment. Karl alternates between the two worlds of Canada and Jamaica in the 1960s and between the lives of Karl and another young boy, Kenneth, as they follow different paths which lead to tragedy and longing. Velma Pollard, who is a senior lecturer in Language Education at the University of the West Indies, treats her subjects with compassion, warmth and humour.

The Jamaican Family Cook Book (Who Says You Have to Be: Rich To Eat Good)

Irene Harvey (Lore Publishing, New York, 1982)

A man always compares a woman’s cooking with his mother’s, and Alphonso Reece, Jamaican trumpet player, is no exception. He’s gone one step further and published this book with the further sub-title of Cooking the Down Home Way by “Master Mother Chef” Irene Harvey (his mom), whose 70 years of traditional recipes fit snugly in a slim unassuming paperback cookbook which looks like a novel at first glance. There’s an exciting ethnic mix of recipes like Duck Baboo, Solomon Gundy (Run Down) and Port Antonio jerked pork. As Master Mother Chef says of blending all the cultural influences into a good meal: “One cooking in one pot”. Tasty.