Caribbean Bookshelf (Summer 1992)

Roundup of books of Caribbean interest, summer 1992


EX-ILES: Essays on Caribbean Cinema

ed. Mbye Cham (Africa World Press 1992)

This is a pioneering book, pulling together the threads of an industry that has remained largely uncharted. Quite apart from the work of internationally successful directors like Horace Ove and Euzhan Palcy (A Dry White Season), the region has produced plenty of little-known but high-quality cinema of its own. In addition to Cuba’s substantial output, there has been interesting work from Haiti and the French Caribbean, useful video and television production around the region, and some intriguing work from individual film-makers in the English-speaking Caribbean — The Harder They Come, Countryman, Bim. Regional output is surveyed in this book; there are studies of specific films, and interviews with several of the region’s outstanding directors, including Christian Lara, Euzhan Palcy and Elise Haas. Contributors include academics and film professionals. It amounts to a thorough and fascinating introduction to a largely hidden industry.

Calypso and Society in Pre-independence Trinidad

by Gordon Rohlehr (published by the author, 1991)

Gordon Rohlehr is Professor of West Indian Literature at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, and the man who made the academic study of calypso respectable. Rohlehr’s method is to use calypso as a mirror for the larger society, its concerns and aspirations. In doing so, he has been able to illuminate not only a complex and changing society, but to establish the calypsonian as the leading artist and commentator and calypso itself as a deeply serious and important art form. This book pulls together Rohlehr’s research in one large volume, taking the story up to the early years of Sparrow and Trinidad and Tobago’s independence from Britain in 1962. Essential reading for anyone interested in calypso, the book is available at leading bookstores in Trinidad.

Lucy

by Jamaica Kincaid (Jonathan Cape, 1991)

Jamaica Kincaid, born in Antigua and now a staff writer for the New Yorker, sprang to prominence with her first two books, At the Bottom of the River and Annie John. The power and lucidity of her writing have already established her as one of the leading voices in the younger generation of Caribbean fiction writers. Her new book is the story of a 19-year-old Caribbean girl who escapes her family and a stifling island atmosphere to work as an au pair for a family in New York. Beautifully written, it explores the girl’s ambivalent feelings towards the two worlds she is trapped between. For many, this was the best Caribbean novel of 1991.

The Art of Derek Walcott

ed. Stewart BroPun (Seren Books, Wales, 1991)

Born in St Lucia and now based in Boston, Derek Walcott is the Caribbean’s leading poet and playwright, and has been hailed as the finest living poet in the English language by such writers as Robert Graves, Salman Rushdie and Nobel prize- winner Joseph Brodsky. This is a full-length study of Walcott’s work to date, including all his major collections of poetry, his plays, his essays and even his painting. The contributors are a formidable team of academics, writers and critics from the Caribbean, North America and Britain, including Mervyn Morris, Louis James, Edward Baugh, Fred D’Aguiar and John Figueroa (who contributes a preliminary note on Walcott’s magnum opus, the recent Omeros). Though it devotes much more space to the poetry than the plays, the book is a very useful overview of Walcott’s output to date.

A High Tide in the Caribbean

by Peter Morgan (Caribbean Communications, Barbados, 1991)

Anyone wondering why the Caribbean is always trying to achieve unity and integration and always failing should read Peter Morgan’s satire. It is 1998, and yet another conference is under way to promote integration. The talk is fine: it’s what actually happens that’s the trouble. The cast includes international operators such as Lord Foffie Arbuthnot of the British government, hard-working domino-players from Boyce’s Bar, redneck expatriates like Wally Sconck, the West Indies opening bat (it goes without saying that cricket takes priority), and various saga-boys, autocrats, lover-boys and subversives. The scene moves from London, Washington and Ottawa to the hard realities of the rum shop, the Tavern on the Beach’ and the all- important test match. The story ends with another conference still, in 2004 … Peter Morgan, long-resident in Barbados, has worked in Caribbean tourism, politics and diplomacy, and has written an entertaining novel: whether it turns out to be accurate remains to be seen.

The Toco Road and other poems of the West Indies

by Stewart Hylton Edwards (Prospect Press, Trinidad, 1991)

These poems form a sort of protracted love letter to Trinidad, where Stewart Hylton Edwards settled in the late fifties and died in 1987. Born in England, he had a distinguished military career and helped to establish and train the Trinidad and Tobago army. But, largely unbeknown to his adopted country, he was also a distinguished musician and composer — his output included four symphonies and two concertos as well as a large body of other work — and a writer, producing two unpublished novels and several collections of poetry. The poetry is thoughtful, technically confident, often religious in origin, with overtones of Eliot and Hopkins. This book is a posthumous collection, put together before his death but only now retrieved and published. He was a restless man who found a real home in the Caribbean: “For in the sea-wind’s wail and restless pace/I find a peace and rest that I can find/No other place.” The book is available at leading bookstores in Trinidad.

Noel Norton’s 20 Years of Trinidad Carnival

Trinidad and Tobago Insurance Ltd., Port of Spain

Noel Norton went into photography after flying with the RAF during the Second World War, and opened his first studio in Trinidad in 1962. The first book is a lavishly produced selection of his photographs over thirty years, and is a handsome souvenir of the country. The pictures cover Carnival, the sea and the coast, the countryside, the people, music and festivals, and industry. It is available at Norton Studios, West Mall, and Aquarela Galleries, Dere Street, both in Port of Spain. The second book covers two decades of Trinidad Carnival in a series of dramatic pictures. Designed and produced by Paria Publishing, it is available at Norton Studios and leading Trinidad bookstores.