Caribbean Bookshelf (September/October 2006)

Elizabeth Nunez’s novel Prospero’s Daughter and a glimpse at the Caribbean’s most glamorous homes


MACO Caribbean Homes ed. Kathy-Ann Waterman (Toute Bagai Publishing, ISBN 976-8194-64-2, 188 pp)

A maco (or mako, macco, or macko) is someone who is always minding other people’s business, poking their nose into people’s private affairs (the more private the better), relishing gossip and scandal. According to Dr Richard Allsopp’s magisterial Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, it’s a word used mostly in Dominica, Grenada, Tobago, and Trinidad, and comes via French Creole from the French macommère, a child’s godmother. It seems that this figure was once considered to be the essence of nosiness and meddling, i.e. of macociousness.

MACO was the name chosen in 1999 by Trinidad-based publisher Neysha Soodeen for a new lifestyle magazine. It was not meant in the usual derogatory sense, presumably, but as a cheerful reason for getting inside some of the Caribbean’s most magnificent homes and villas. To MACO them (as opposed to merely macoing them in lower-case) is to celebrate their architecture and furnishings and make the rest of us disgustingly envious of their elegant taste, their style, the views from their verandahs, their art, their Eden-like gardens, their sumptuous bedrooms and bathrooms, and their wondrous dinner-tables.

MACO has since spawned a sister magazine, MACO Destinations, and a beautiful coffee-table book. MACO Caribbean Homes macoes its way through sixteen truly spectacular homes across twelve Caribbean islands, including the palace which (Sir) Cliff Richard built for himself in Barbados and the mansion which David Bowie commissioned in Mustique.

The photography and production quality do justice to their opulent subjects and make the book an attractive gift or collector’s item. It will certainly make you think just how sweet life could be if you had perfect taste, an architect in love with Caribbean light and space and open air, and a few zillion dollars to spare.

Sheldon Charles

 


Prospero’s Daughter Elizabeth Nunez (Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-345-45535-5, 316 pp)
 

Elizabeth Nunez’s new novel, Prospero’s Daughter, is a retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy The Tempest as a pre-World War Two love affair between a Miranda-type and a Caliban-type, set in Trinidad. In Nunez’s version, Prospero is the Englishman Peter Gardener, a former doctor who has become a refugee on Chacachacare, a tiny island just off Trinidad’s north-west coast. His daughter, Virginia, is the Miranda character, and the Caliban is Carlos, the mulatto son of the house’s late owner. Ariel, the sprite forcibly indentured to Prospero in Shakespeare’s play, becomes a waif-like cook and housemaid named Ariana.

Prospero’s Daughter starts in a police station, where an expat Englishman named Mumsford is opening an investigation into the alleged rape of a white English girl by a black native boy. The girl is Virginia/Miranda and the boy is Carlos/Caliban. The book is told as a series of narratives, beginning with Mumsford’s, progressing to Carlos’s, and ending with Virginia’s. Each has his or her own take on the situation at hand and the historical circumstances that have led to Gardener’s life in Chacachacare, and hence the alleged rape.

Nunez, the author of a string of noted novels, including Bruised Hibiscus and Discretion, is a professor of English literature at a New York college. She is obviously a bibliophile and a fan of The Tempest. At times she seems to be attempting to recreate the play wholesale: Shakespeare’s Prospero was a magician, and so is Nunez’s; Ariel was in thrall to Sycorax as Ariana is beholden to Carlos’s mother; Nunez’s characters, like Shakespeare’s, live an isolated life on the island; and so on. Everybody in Prospero’s Daughter quotes The Tempest; but even when they know they’re quoting it and calling themselves the names from the play, there seems to be a queer sense of separation between them and the text.

Still, there is much to recommend this novel, which is a stimulating addition to the ongoing Caribbean conversation about colonialism, governance, race, and identity. Through the many parallels of plot, character, and language between Shakespeare’s story and her own, Nunez makes none-too-subtle points about the intelligence and potential of the Caribbean’s people, the region’s corrupt roots in white supremacy, and the benefits of intermarriage of cultures.

Lisa Allen-Agostini