Caribbean Bookshelf (November/December 2007)

New Caribbean publications

A statue of the Hindu god Hanuman in Waterloo, central Trinidad. Photograph courtesy Hansib PublicationsAnthony Winkler. Photograph courtesy Anthony WinklerSand Doll on the cover of Roberta Stoddar’s new book The Storyteller. Photograph courtesy Roberta StoddartStern John goes wild with a Trinidad and Tobago flag moments after the team`s 1-0 win over Bahrain. Photograph courtesy Medianet Ltd

The White Witch of Rosehall Herbert G de Lisser
(Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 978-1-4050-8592-2, 272pp)

The republication of The White Witch of Rosehall, a classic Jamaican ghost story first published in 1929, will come as good news to fans of the venerable bodice-ripper. Set in a haunted Jamaican plantation house in the last days of slavery, the book is a licentious romp through various bedrooms on the Rose Hall plantation as a young nobleman moves to the islands and quickly becomes acclimatised to the era’s casual and hypocritical attitude to sex.

However, even he isn’t blind to the rigid questions of race and class the novel really explores. Under the shell of a naughty (for its time) story of sex and magic, the author Herbert G De Lisser built a complex edifice in tribute to the deeply stratified caste system of the colonial Caribbean. The hero Rutherford, fresh off the boat, falls in love with two women, both connected to witchcraft. He loves the white woman in spite of her evil ways, and the black one in spite of her blackness. Throughout the book De Lisser’s richly-textured language betrays a passionate love of the island, each landscape dripping with emotional weight. It betrays deeply entrenched class prejudice: the slaves on the plantation are often mentioned in the same breath as the cattle, and the book is steeped, as are his others, in his philosophy of the inferiority of the black man.

De Lisser himself was born into the lower echelons of the creole coloured aristocracy and went on to be the editor of the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper for some 40 years. He was a prolific writer; this was his best-known work and it is steeped, as are his others, in his philosophy of the inferiority of the black man. This novel, however, does not lack charm in spite of it. The love stories take second place to the obeah subplot, in which the white witch of the title is unveiled. It’s based on a true story that is even more gruesome than this fictional version; in real life the eponymous character was said to have sacrificed human babies to further her evil powers. Visitors swear you can still hear her creeping about at Rosehall, a real estate in Montego Bay.

If that’s not enough to convince you the book is worth a look, this is the eighth reprinting of the book by Macmillan in the past 25 years, so there must be something to it.

Lisa Allen-Agostini

 

Dog War Anthony C Winkler
(Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 1-4050-7064-1, 194pp)

Anthony C Winkler is probably the funniest writer you’ve never heard of. Relatively little-known despite a hilarious canon of work that includes two film adaptations, Winkler may yet change all that with his most recently published book. Dog War, his first US-set book, is a hysterically funny exercise in how to write a Caribbean comedy.

With its outrageous leading lady, Precious, the book meanders through a Goldilocks-like paradigm of homes as Precious knocks about from pillar to post looking for somewhere to rest her head after her husband suddenly dies. Her first stop, her son’s home, is too hard, as the bitter, unattractively emaciated (to the well-padded Precious) daughter-in-law offers dry muffins and a ban on joy. The second home, her daughter’s in Miami, Florida, is too soft; the son-in-law is a trifle with a spongy heart set on Precious herself. When she happens on the perfect job—housekeeper in a spotless palace—she doesn’t think twice about taking it. Of course, nothing is ever as “just right” as it seems, and the new job is really to be a dog’s maid.

Winkler’s broad characterisations are terribly funny, if stereotypes.

While another writer might have tried to couch some satirical statement in the characters—surely the church lady couldn’t really talk to God, and he couldn’t really answer, could he?—Winkler is content to let them stand, flaws as flaws, idiosyncrasies as idiosyncrasies, because that is just how people are.

Whether or not that is a particularly West Indian way of looking at the world, it’s pretty funny to see the squishy insides of some of the novel’s characters. They are solidly Caribbean types and uniformly funny.

Dog War is part of Macmillan’s Anthony C Winkler Collection, which includes his best-known books The Lunatic (1987) and The Duppy (1997), and lesser-known works like the autobiographical Going Home to Teach.

The newest book, published last year, is a brisk read that will—be warned—leave you laughing out loud in public. Its narrator’s voice is a comfortable and seamless upper-middle-class Jamaican patois that fits Precious and this book like a glove. When she pronounces her jihad on the relentless pet she is maid to, it is perfectly credible and perfectly pitched.

LAA

 

Trinidad and Tobago: Terrific and Tranquil (2nd edition) ed. Arif Ali
(Hansib Publications, ISBN 1-870518-80-2, 240pp)

The appearance of the second edition of Hansib Publication’s Trinidad and Tobago: Terrific and Tranquil is a welcome one. Arif Ali, Guyanese-born founder of Hansib Publications, is well known and respected for his experience in multicultural publishing. The first edition of this book in 2000 explored beyond the stereotype to provide an accurate portrayal of Trinidad and Tobago at the end of the 1990s. Carefully chosen, beautiful photography accompanied text (supplied by local writers and edited by Ali) that ranged from politics to Carnival and just about everything in between.

The scope of this first project may explain the need for a second edition less than seven years later. While some material is repeated, much of it is new. The most striking change is the tangible feeling of a more mature Trinidad and Tobago less than a decade on. Ali is more familiar with his subject matter and this is reflected both in the articles presented and in the slant of the approach. The republic is in the throes of a significant natural-gas-driven economic boom with all the accompanying development. The need for a responsible approach to areas such as sustainable development, health and education are all addressed. Particularly interesting is the article on tourism by Elspeth Duncan that raises serious questions about preserving the country’s unique heritage of flora and fauna and the need for government to make this area a priority. It is also impressive to note how many projects mentioned in the 2000 edition have come on stream by the second publication.

The scope of the material begs the question of the audience. Part reference book, part coffee-table book, this interesting hybrid may run the risk of falling through marketing cracks. The casual tourist may be daunted by its copy density and the more serious reader may not look to a publication such as this for factual references. However, both groups would find fodder to chew on. It’s beautiful for idle flipping, as Ali has been able to maintain his standard of gorgeous photography, but there is also a wealth of responsible writing that characterises the increasing maturity and confidence of local journalists. The whiff of “tourist writing” that was perceptible in the first edition is not nearly as apparent, and this improves the credibility of most of the text.

If there is a fault in some of the writing, it is in the piece that attempts clunky metaphorical connections between the nation’s symbols. Unfortunately this occurs at the beginning of the book, and less determined readers may find themselves unable to wade through the convoluted links. It is, however, advisable to persist, because there are truly wonderful pieces on varied topics. A more glaring fault may lie in the uneven captioning of photographs throughout the book.

However, Ali is to be commended on the sheer scope of both books for factual references and clean, clear layout. It is no mean feat to find the balance between images and text so that both shine. We can only hope that he continues to direct his attention to the Caribbean region and to document the unique attributes of each of these remarkable islands. While this country is fortunate to be able to add both editions of Trinidad and Tobago: Terrific and Tranquil to the local canon of tourist-targeted writing, local readers would also find it hard to go wrong in having a copy on their bookshelves.

Sharon Millar

 

Legacy of the Soca Warriors 1965–2006 Valentino Singh
(Medianet Ltd, ISBN 978-976-95137-76, 264pp)

When an historic event takes place, you’re guaranteed the “cash-in” book will follow shortly after. However, Legacy of the Soca Warriors, I am happy to say, is no such publication.

From the outset it has a ring of authenticity and successfully evokes the proud, celebratory atmosphere which accompanied Trinidad and Tobago’s first football World Cup appearance. The passion in the writing is as real as it was during Germany 2006 and you can almost hear Maximus Dan’s Fighter, which became the side’s anthem, jumping off the page.

No facet of the Warriors experience is left untouched. There is an assessment of each group opponent, a look at how the German hosts took the team to their hearts, the resolute performances, Shaka Hislop’s heroics, the last hurrah of Russell Latapy’s dancing feet and Dwight Yorke’s consummate skills and how football united a nation in a way politicians never can.

The bumpy qualification campaign, which saw Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker take charge with only one point gained from three games, is examined. How Yorke and Latapy emerged from international retirement and Beenhakker guided his team to a two-legged play-off against Bahrain—a game that culminated in Denis Lawrence rising to head home Yorke’s perfectly flighted corner for the winner and, thousands of miles away, a Caribbean country erupting in celebration.

Sections on Yorke, Beenhakker, Austin Jack Warner, the country’s travelling cultural contingent and even the influence of corporate T&T follow.

The analysis on Yorke shows how the man with the winning toothy smile and endless energy turned himself from a great striker into a superb defensive midfielder. We also hear his personal thoughts on the road to the World Cup and the final realisation of a dream he thought had passed in 1989.

Beenhakker, the ex-Ajax, Real Madrid and Netherlands coach, is revealed as a strict disciplinarian who set about instilling structure and professionalism into the side. One of his hardest tasks would appear to have been remedying his players’ innate aversion to timekeeping.

As well as documenting Germany 2006, the book takes the reader back into the history of Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup campaigns (beginning in 1964) and most notably the agonising near misses of 1973 and 1989.

Here Andy Aleong, a veteran of the 1964 campaign, reminds us that football wasn’t always so wealthy, when he explains the consequences of the players swapping shirts with their Surinamese opponents.

“When we got to our dressing room, our manager told us to get back our jerseys since we only had two. We needed them for the entire campaign. It was really embarrassing.”

This 264-page glossy coffee-table publication is written by Valentino Singh, sports editor of the Trinidad Guardian, with invaluable contributions from football administration veteran Peter O’Connor and journalists Vaneisa Baksh and Keith Smith.

Football fans, especially fans of the Soca Warriors, will enjoy this book and revel in the memories of an extraordinary moment in Trinidad and Tobago’s sporting history.

James Fuller

 

Art from the heart

Art publications are a rarity in the Caribbean, but Trinidad-based artist Roberta Stoddart will launch a book featuring a collection of her most memorable contemporary works, titled The Storyteller, in Trinidad on November 21, at the National Museum and Art Gallery, and on December 15 at the Hi-Qo Gallery, in Kingston, Jamaica.

The self-published book contains 68 colour plates, with work from the artist’s first solo exhibit in Kingston in 1991 and her new exhibition In The Flesh, which will be on display at the time of the launch.

Trinidadian photographer Abigail Hadeed has written the introduction to The Storyteller, in which she describes Stoddart’s work as “intense and disturbing, stimulating questions about our collective prejudices and our notions of belonging.”

Stoddart also contributes an essay to The Storyteller, describing herself as a “storyteller who fleshes out what is most important to [her] heart.” She adds: “My paintings are often symbolic and allegorical, attempting to explore lived experiences of both an autobiographical and social nature.”

Since 1996, Stoddart has exhibited her work in the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad, and internationally in France, Spain and Argentina.

Tracy Assing