Caribbean Bookshelf (Autumn 1993)

Roundup of books of Caribbean interest


Tanti at de Oval

Selected works by Paul Keens-Douglas (paperback)

Storyteller Paul Keens-Douglas, whose performances are known up and down the Caribbean islands, has produced some classic tales of Caribbean life over the years. Written in dialect, often in verse form, they are superficially comedies about Caribbean life — a mother berating her son for stealing all her string for his kite, parents christening a baby Timultaneous, the legendary Tanti Merle enjoying a day of cricket at the Oval, the story of Slim (“de fella wit’ no teeth who always steupsin”). You can hear some of the work on one of BWIA’s audio channels, and his sketches often appear in this magazine. But the stories are deeper than simple comedy; they are also Caribbean self-recognition, a region looking at itself, accepting itself with humour. Even the funniest pieces have reflective undertones, and some get quite emotional (Ah Love Yu Island, Look for Yu God, Sugar George). Twenty-nine pieces, dating from 1974 to 1992, have now been collected from earlier volumes and albums and republished as a compact paperback sampler. The collection should be available in any good Trinidad and Tobago bookstore.

The Nature of the Islands

Virginia Barlow (Chris Doyle Publishing, P.O. Box 1017, Dunedin, FL 34697, 1993)

Every visitor to the Caribbean who wants to know more about the place than the location of the nearest beach and bar should have a copy of this book. In readable and user-friendly prose it raises your eyes from your Stephen King paperback and rum punch to notice some of the beautiful things you might easily miss. Each of the eight chapters focuses on a different environment — beach, reef, garden, rainforest, roadside — and points out the birds, plants, fish, corals, animals, that are waiting to be noticed. Each entry is accompanied by a sketch, each chapter by a full-colour illustration (by Katie Shears), and there are plenty of colour photographs. The author is a Vermont forester who has explored the islands thoroughly; her solid research is matched by painless and accessible writing.

Trinidad Ethnicity

Kelvin A. Yelvington (ed.) (Macmillan / Warwick University Caribbean Studies 1992)

The Caribbean could teach the world a thing or two about multi-ethnic societies, especially as ethnic conflicts blaze out of control in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. Trinidad is probably the most ethnically diverse island in the Caribbean, with its large communities descended from Africans and Indians, and substantial minorities descended from Europe and the Mediterranean, the Middle East and China, not to mention the extensive mixing that has taken place. This book is a serious academic study of how this highly diverse society was created, how its structures have evolved, how the different cultural legacies adapt and co-exist in a modern “creole” setting, and the impact all this has on everything from the lives of women to writers and calypsonians.

Sailors’ Guide to the Windward Islands Chris Doyle

(Chris Doyle Publishing, P.O. Box 1017, Dunedin, FL. 34697; 6th edition, 1992)

That this lively sailing guide to the Windwards has gone into six editions since 1980 is testimony to its usefulness and popularity. It covers the area from Martinique to Grenada, including the Grenadine islands, and the passages between them. The beauty of it is its combination of good hard detail (onshore and at sea, with clear maps) and a lively and often amusing style. Apart from thorough chapters on each island, there’s a section of aerial colour photographs of the islands, often with the position of reefs and shoals superimposed, and other sections covering basic information about the islands, cruising conditions, scuba diving, food, the night sky in the Caribbean, and communications. For anyone taking to a boat in this part of the Caribbean, this guide is a must.

Eugenia: the Caribbean’s Iron Lady

Janet Higbie (Macmillan Caribbean 1993)

Dominica’s feisty Prime Minister apparently thought she was not interesting enough for a biography. This book shows she was wrong. Dame Eugenia Charles, who stood beside President Reagan as he announced the US/Caribbean military intervention in Grenada in 1983, comes across as a profoundly interesting figure: strong-willed, down to earth, blunt, often controversial, but speaking and acting from conviction rather than giving a political performance. She has much in common with Britain’s deposed leader Margaret Thatcher, quite apart from the “iron lady” tag (in Dominica she’s also Lady Dracula, Danger Lady and Mamo). Survivor of two early coup attempts and much local opposition, Dame Eugenia, now 74 and in her fourth term, did much to stabilise Dominica politically and economically after the upheavals of the 1970s, refusing to bow to convention, expectation or male pressure. Historians will debate many of her strategies and decisions and, as with Thatcher, will argue over the nature of her real contribution; but her courage and forcefulness will not be in doubt. There is plenty of rewarding material in this book, including an intriguing chapter on Charles’s 1983 visit to Washington to sell the Grenada intervention, and some choice quotes (“I hear the Minister of Finance says I am a witch. I wish I was. If I was a witch I would put the witchcraft on him and he would be dead. ”