Caribbean Bookshelf (September/October 2014)

This month’s reading picks — from Caribbean sci-fi to hard hitting essays about contemporary Jamaica

The Best of All Possible WorldsC.L.R. James: Cricket’s Philosopher KingAmong the Bloodpeople: Politics and FleshSixty Years of LovingGloria

The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord
(Del Rey, 320 pp, ISBN 9780345534057)

The lovers in Barbadian Karen Lord’s sophomore science fiction novel aren’t merely star-crossed: their opposing traits are utterly intra-planetary. Biotechnician Grace Delarua’s made of stern, Terran-based, Cygnian stock. She’s paired up for a mission in the company of Sadirian ambassador Dllenahkh, whose home planet has been obliterated in a calculated act of vengeful warfare. The unlikely duo first meet on Cygnus Beta, a corner of the cosmos that also conveniently doubles as a bastion for the dispossessed. In Lord’s universe, refugees and immigrants traverse borders for both love and necessity — and the two aren’t alien states.

Like the best speculative fiction, The Best of All Possible Worlds works well to reveal the ordinary clockwork whirring within the heart of a spectacularly constructed edifice. Family members are surly with each other over dinner tables; battles are fought and lost over petty trifles; men and women follow their desires into unlikely territories. Standing in the Hall of Names, Delarua can sense “a low susurration of a thousand extinct languages; the occasional whiff of smoke, incense, or perfume from various half-forgotten rituals; the distant moan and skirl of ancient instruments that no one knows how to make any more.”

The narrative invokes both boisterous humour and deep swathes of gravitas, straddling space opera that’s tinged with infusions of Jane Eyre. Delarua and Dllenahkh bond over holovids and shared case histories, trading origin stories as they traverse distant outposts beneath alien and familiar stars. “It felt like your neural electricity was in my nerves and brain and spine,” one says to the other, in the aftermath of what sounds a great deal like devotion taking root, whether the language is flowing across synapses, or lilting with the basic instruction of love.

 

C.L.R. James: Cricket’s Philosopher King, by Dave Renton
(HopeRoad, 192 pp, ISBN 9781908446039)

Dave Renton avoids easy hagiography in his examination of the Trinidadian thinker James in his Cricketing Marxist aspect, with results that make for lucid, sympathetic reading. Cricket’s Philosopher King is, in the sum of its parts, a working sociology of the rules (and accompanying uncertainties) governing what is arguably the Caribbean’s most beautiful, historically knotty sport. The biographer judiciously and generously outfits his text with direct quotes from James’s own writings, largely from the famed 1963 Beyond a Boundary. Everything returns, much like a wicket-seeking wind ball, to James’s equalising passion in cricket, in his faith that the game could be the ultimate social leveller. “If resistance,” opines Renton, “can be found in . . . two batsmen dressed in whites, then truly, joyfully, it must be everywhere.”

 

Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh, by Thomas Glave
(Akashic, 227 pp, ISBN 9781617751783)

Thomas Glave’s essays enfold the reader in the full engagement that comes with keeping vigil: to read is to be perched on the rim of an uneasy Jamaica, blood-spattered with anti-gay crimes of violence. Each journey embarked upon by the essayist is bravely mounted, whether it charges into not-so-hallowed halls of academia, or towards somersaulting antics that dive into the blue-green Caribbean Sea. Among the Bloodpeople sails doughtily in difficult waters, navigated by an overarching sensibility on par with the relentless openness of fellow Jamaican Kei Miller’s essays in Writing Down the Vision. Glave remarks on the state of an island as he sees it, and of a people whose legacies bear out in astonishing ways, employing prose that soothes while its subject matter sears genteel sensibilities.

 

Sixty Years of Loving, by Maggie Harris
(Cane Arrow Press, 104 pp, ISBN 9780956290175)

Hard-won ebullience marks the cadences of the poems in Sixty Years of Loving. It’s a collection that savours the intimacies and foibles of a private life, one nourished by Caribbean memories and bathed in an England that’s rendered both pastorally, and with pop-culture contemporaneity. Guyana-born Maggie Harris conducts her poetry without artifice, plumbing the memory-rich depths of young and ungovernable ardour to deliver potent recollections, heady on the power of their salad days. Tucked beneath the unfettered canter of these celebrations, the poet stitches cautionary tales into several of her verses, warning against the dark-eyed temptations that accompany an unexamined Paradise.

 

Gloria, by Kerry Young
(Bloomsbury Circle, 400 pp, ISBN 9781408822883)

A novel that quietly earns its feminist stripes with each chapter, Gloria is a multiply layered examination of an unlikely heroine’s life in 1930s Jamaica, as well as an exploration of the society that shapes her thirty-year development. Gloria navigates the cutthroat cloisters of bordellos and back alleys alike, squaring off with a charismatic racketeer whose fate is more than subtly intertwined with her own. Her leading lady’s saga is inextricably bound to the story of Jamaica on the verge of history-making significance, suggesting that nations are no greater than the remarkable mettle of their citizenry. In this sequel to Kerry Young’s Pao, horse-drawn buggies clatter through Kingston streets, while a young woman blossoms boldly into the flames of her own independence.

Reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan, Bookshelf editor