Caribbean Bookshelf (Autumn 1995)

A round-up of new books about the Caribbean

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A History Of West Indies Cricket
Michael Manley (revised edition, West Indies Publishing Ltd., 1995)
Michael Manley – twice Prime Minister of Jamaica – produced his History of West Indies Cricket in 1988, and has now revised and updated it to bring the story up to 1994. Among other things (updated statistics, new photographs), that means taking account of the Brian Lara phenomenon – Lara, the young Trinidad and Tobago player, last year broke virtually all the game’s records for batting, and appears on the front cover of this book. Manley’s enthusiasm for the game dates back to 1935 when, as a child of 10, he watched a West Indies Test victory at Sabina Park in Kingston and relished the playing of Constantine, Headley and Martindale. Like C. L. R. James, whose Beyond A Boundary has long been a cricketing classic, Manley understands not only the game itself but its place in Caribbean culture; as the former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd says in his introduction, the book is likely to stand as a definitive history of the Caribbean’s most important game. The revised edition comes at what looks like the end of a period of West Indian dominance: perhaps it was as well that Manley had gone to press before watching the debacle at Sabina Park last May, which lost the West Indies their first Test series in 15 years. Constantine in 1935 probably made happier watching.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 1995
ed. Matthew Engel (Wisden, UK, 1995)
Brian Lara figures prominently in the 1995 Bible of cricket: he is one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year, after setting a new Test record of 375 for the West Indies against England and a First Class record of 501 not out for Warwickshire within a few weeks of each other last year. Wisden, published annually since 1864, is perhaps the most famous publication in all sport, and a goldmine for real cricket buffs, carrying every imaginable statistic as well as full scorecards of every Test Match played during the year and reports on cricket activity in 40 countries. Journalist Matthew Engel, now occupying the editor’s chair, brings a welcome vitality to the commentary and analysis, and clearly relishes the reports of bizarre cricketing events.

Glimpses Of Our Past
John Gilmore (Ian Randle Publishers, Jamaica, 1995)
Sub-titled A Social History of the Caribbean In Postcards, this is an imaginative book: handsomely produced by a Caribbean publisher, it reprints more than 200 postcards of the Caribbean, mostly from the early decades of this century. It is not just a book for the growing army of postcard-collectors: it is a real glimpse into the world of our Caribbean grandparents and great-grandparents. Before television, before film and video and the Travel Channel, postcards were the easiest way of seeing what other parts of the world looked like; and in many ways they were far more interesting then – far more curious about the world about them – than postcards tend to be now, with their obsessive stereotypes of beach and pool and sun. These older images are real eye-openers by comparison; they look with the eye of the alert traveller at buildings, people, streets, windmills, animals, tradespeople, jobs. Journalist and historian John Gilmore adds an interesting chapter on the evolution of postcards and comments on each card and the social reality it represents.

The Other Middle Passage
ed. Ron Ramdin (Hansib Publishing, London, 1994)
The Middle Passage – the brutal voyage across the Atlantic from Africa to the Caribbean sugar plantations – was part of the horrendous traffic in African slaves. The “other” Middle Passage was the transportation of Indians to take the place of the Africans in some parts of the Caribbean after slavery was abolished in the 1830s. The “coolie ships” – small, cramped sailing ships in the early years – took more than three months to cross the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope and sail across the southern Atlantic to the Caribbean. Cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, malnutrition and stress were all common; on one voyage in 1857 almost a third of the Indians died. In this way more than half a million were transported across the world. Only two first-hand accounts of the voyages are known to have survived, and here is one of them, presented with a lengthy introduction by historian Ron Ramdin. It’s the laconic diary of Captain Edolphus Swinton, who was in command of the 579-ton Salsette which sailed from Calcutta on March 17, 1858, with 324 Indian migrants on board and arrived in Trinidad on July 2, with less than 200 still alive. The misery of the “coolie ships” has long been overshadowed by the slave ships, but their story is at last being told too. 

The Black Power Revolution Of 1970: A Retrospective
ed. Selwyn Ryan and Taimoon Stewart (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1995)
Trinidad and Tobago’s “black power” upheaval and army revolt in 1970 was a key moment in modern Caribbean history. It made people think of themselves differently; it was a cultural and psychological turning point. The outline of what happened has long been familiar, but some of the detail is still unclear, controversial or secret. In April 1990 the University of the West Indies staged a conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the event and to try and document as much as possible before memories faded; invitations were sent to virtually all the surviving key figures, and many – though by no means all – took part. This book presents the papers and discussions that resulted, and begins to plug the enormous gaps in current understanding of a crucial event.

The Life And Times Of Errol Barrow
Peter Morgan (Caribbean Communications, Barbados, 1994)
Errol Barrow steered Barbados to independence and served as its first Prime Minister; he was a key figure in Caribbean political development, like Eric Williams and Norman Manley. But he was also a distinguished bomber pilot, an enthusiastic sailor and diver, a skilful lawyer, a deeply serious and humane man, and a very accomplished cook. Peter Morgan was close to Barrow for 30 years, and served under him as Minister of Tourism. This book is not an in-depth biography, as Morgan quickly concedes — it’s a lively and readable memoir of a complex man. Because the two were friends and colleagues, Morgan can paint a portrait direct from life: the book is full of anecdotes and memories, from how Barrow came to be nicknamed “Dipper” to the way he would excuse himself from Cabinet meetings to go and cook lunch for his ministers. This is a valuable portrait of a formidable man, and it deserved much more professional editing, design and production work than it received.

Austin C. Clarke
Stella Algoo-Baksh (ECW Press, Toronto , 1994)
Stella Algoo-Baksh — a Trinidadian who is professor of English at Memorial University in Newfoundland — writes that she only encountered Austin Clarke’s work in 1984 when she read his account of his childhood in Barbados, Growing Up Stupid Under The Union Jack. “I laughed — and cried — with him at the joys and sorrows of growing up in a society still bearing the strong imprint of colonialism, because I found that in many ways he was writing about me.” Perhaps because he moved to Canada in the 1950s and has been based there ever since, apart from a brief and turbulent return to Barbados in the mid 1970s, Clarke is not as well known in the Caribbean as he should be. His novels inevitably reflect the difficulties of being a Caribbean migrant in a white society, split loyalties, the tugging of roots. But even the most successful of them are little known in today’s Caribbean. With any luck, this biography will bring them new readers and new interest.

The Game Of The Rose
Niala Maharaj and Gaston Dorren (Institute For Development Research, Amsterdam, 1995)
Growing and exporting flowers is one of the many new industries being embraced by the developing world. Countries like Colombia, Kenya, India and Zimbabwe have gone into the business in a big way, and parts of the Caribbean are following suit with enthusiasm. But is this a viable development strategy? Who really controls the business, who really benefits? Are developing countries simply providing cheap labour and resources, scarce land and water and unrestricted pesticides, for an industry whose real mechanisms they do not understand? Trinidadian journalist Niala Maharaj is the co-author of a pioneering study that is deeply unimpressed with the prospects.

Fabula Rasa
Brian Chan (Peepal Tree Press, UK, 1994)
Brian Chan’s first collection Thief With Leaf won the Guyana Prize six years ago; Cecil Gray is a distinguished educator who has compiled several anthologies of regional literature, and helped to pioneer the inclusion of Caribbean literature in the school curriculum – this is his first personal collection. Both poets – one a Guyanese, the other a Trinidadian – now live in Canada.Chan loves wordplay, new inflections for familiar words and phrases, shifts of meaning, puns. At times, his taut rhythms recall Martin Carter, but he has the insistent burrowing style of a more modern, metropolitan tradition.

The Woolgatherer
Cecil Gray (Peepal Tree Press, UK, 1994)
Gray’s Woolgatherer is a quiet affair. Cecil Gray has a very fine ear and an understated ease which distinguishes him from the bustle of much contemporary verse. His poems are modest – almost gentleman-amateur – in their tone, but they are nicely judged and technically well-achieved. Particularly striking are his evocations of Port of Spain under curfew and at Carnival, poems which feel like pastorals.

Nuclear Seasons
Ramabai Espinet (Sister Vision Press 1991)
Ramabai Espinet is the editor of Creation Fire, the well-received anthology of Caribbean women poets. Nuclear Seasons is a Larkin-sized offering of varied moods and styles: some of the poems look back to her childhood in Trinidad, others inveigh against the phallocentric aggressions of the modern male or, as the blurb puts it, “the winner-takes-all morality of power politics”. Several poems have a stubborn, urban grace. Espinet has strong opinions and voices them with a great deal of charm. But most of her work is pointedly political, such as her tight-lipped elegy on the balcony of Patricia Deanna, who fell to her death evading “immigration officials who had broken down the doors to the apartment where she was baby-sitting. She was in Canada, pregnant, illegal and utterly alone.”

Death On The Pasture
S. B. Jones-Hendrickson (Eastern Caribbean Institute, US Virgin Islands, 1994)

The new novel from the author of Sonny Jim of Sandy Point  is a thriller, set on the fictional island of St Siven, bristling with political and romantic intrigue.

Ladies Of The Night
Althea Prince (Sister Vision Press, Toronto, 1993)
A collection of poignant stories by an Antiguan writer based in Toronto, strong on the problems of Caribbean women with each other and with men.

Sanni Mannitae
Ian I. Smart (Original World Press, Washington, 1994)
A spirited first novel from a Trinidadian who’s now a Professor of Spanish at Howard University. Sub-titled A Tall Tale For Our Times, it tells how a “smartman” Afro-Trinidadian becomes a bona fide American and a professor at a black university. The author forcefully reminds us that it’s “just fiction, plain and simple make-believe . . . don’t take it seriously — it might bite.”

Tenor Pan Owner’s Manual
Edouard Wade (Eddie Wade Scores, Trinidad, 1994)
A small, 24-page primer for anyone owning or wanting to play the tenor pan: how to look after it, how to play it. The author is a former Director of Music with the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.

Life And Food In The Caribbean

Cristine Mackie (Ian Randle Publishers, Jamaica, 1995)
Food, travel and history, all in one: Cristine Mackie has managed to combine over 100 recipes from around the Caribbean with first-person experience and research — a new genre? The book was first issued in 1991 and is now republished in the Caribbean by the enterprising Ian Randle Publishers in Kingston.

Travelling Jamaica With Knife, Fork And Spoon
Robb Walsh and Jay McCarthy (The Crossing Press, California, 1995)
Sub-titled A Righteous Guide to Jamaican Cookery, this is a more traditional cookbook, the result of a two-week journey in which the authors — an American food writer and a Jamaican-raised chef — set out to eat their way across Jamaica. Anything about Jamaican food and drink that’s not in here is probably not worth knowing.

ALSO RECEIVED

Learn Cricket The Easy Way; Learn Soccer The Easy Way
Pradeep Vishnu (Trinidad)

Ninja’s Carnival
Ramabai Espinet, illustrations by Farida Zaman (Sister Vision Press, Toronto, 1993)

My First Caribbean Atlas
Mike Morrissey (Oxford University Press, 1995)