Caribbean Bookshelf (March/April 1997)

What's new in Caribbean books

Drumblair: Memories Of A Jamaican Childhood

Rachel Manley (Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston, Jamaica 1996: ISBN 976-8100-98-2/976-8100-97-4)

“We must all be very nice to you,” Rachel Manley’s grandmother Edna used to tell her. “One day you’re going to write about all of us.” There was a lot to write: Edna’s husband Norman founded one of the country’s two major political parties and led Jamaica to independence; and Edna, a sculptor, was the mother of Jamaican art. Rachel’s father Michael Manley was prime minister of Jamaica three times. Drumblair was the house where Rachel Manley grew up with her grandparents, and this book is an affectionate, charming memoir of her childhood. It tells the story of Jamaica’s political aristocracy during some of the most crucial years of the island’s history. Yet Drumblair is written more like a novel than the stodgier political biography that one might expect. Manley refashions a child’s view of her beloved grandparents, “Pardi” and “Mardi”, with love, with insight and with grace.

Pathways to Power

Selwyn Ryan (Institute of Social and Economic Research, UWI, 1996, pb, ISBN 976-618-027-X)

How did the East Indians of Trinidad move From the Canefield to the Twin Towers (the title of this book’s introduction)? The answer runs to several hundred pages. Written over several years, this is intended as a companion volume to Dr Ryan’s Race and Nationalism in Trinidad and Tobago, and traces the slow empowerment of the country’s Indian community. It is an engrossing tale, leading from indentureship to the United National Congress’s coalition- based victory in the 1995 general election. There are inevitable longueurs, but the story is well told and gives a lively sense of the politics of Trinidad and Tobago.

Caribbean Transactions: West Indian Culture in Literature

Renu Juneja (Macmillan Caribbean 1996: ISBN-333-62552-8)

This is the latest in the Warwick University Caribbean Studies series. It is a reading of Caribbean literature that focuses on one of its major concerns: the need to move away from the patterns of the past, from the plantation and indentureship, into a new cultural identity. Indian-born Renu Juneja is Professor of English at Valparaiso University, and takes this quest personally, seeing Caribbean writing as a way of forging new perceptions, new myths to live by. The argument leads inexorably to V.S. Naipaul and then to Derek Walcott and Omeros, the poem that probably clinched his 1992 Nobel Prize.

Caribbean Journal Of Criminology And Social Psychology

ed. Ramesh Deosaran (Ansa McAL Psychological Research Centre, UWI, St. Augustine 1996, ISSN 1025-5991)

In the Caribbean, public discourse on crime generally degenerates into a quarrel. The inaugural issue of this journal is a step in the opposite direction. Contributions range from a study of juries in Trinidad to assessments of the controversial Pratt and Morgan decision by the Privy Council; from sentencing policy for drug offenders to the need for proper data. Crime too often elicits an inadequate response from policy makers; non-partisan literature like this is valuable. What do you think an “Indo-centred” jury (in Trinidad) is likely to decide in a capital case with highly ambiguous’ evidence against an “Afro-accused”, and what would an “Afro-centred” jury find? Whatever your sympathies, this rewarding (if terribly-daunting-to-look-at) debut issue promises a thought-provoking journal.

The Authentic Caribbean Craft Catalogue

(Caribbean Export, Barbados: ISBN 976- 8083-19-0)

Every Caribbean island has its craft shops, craft vendors, and beach hustlers with carvings and souvenirs to sell. Now the Caribbean Export Development Agency in Barbados has produced a catalogue – a lavish piece of work — that lists leading authentic craft producers in 14 Caribbean states from Antigua and Barbuda to Trinidad and Tobago. Each producer gets a page, with a handsome picture, contact details and some description of the work. This way, you can select anything from a genuine Trinidad steelpan through mountains of batik and leather to a hand-carved Rastafarian face from Jamaica, and order it on the form provided. The catalogue costs US$12 from the Caribbean Export office in Hastings (246-436-05 78, fax 246- 436-9999)

Folk Songs of Barbados

Compiled by Trevor Marshall, Peggy McGeary, Grace Thompson (lan Randle Publishers, Jamaica, 1996: ISBN 976-8100-65-6)

This is a new edition of a collection first published 15 years ago: it contains 72 authentic Barbados folk songs, many dating back into the plantation era, merely a taste of the material that’s there waiting to be processed. The melody of each is written out, with the background harmony indicated, and a few paragraphs of introduction are added to each song to establish the context and origin – in some cases historic photographs too. The compilers contribute a useful introduction on Barbadian folk songs and the challenges of collecting and authenticating them. The material is divided into eight sections, including groups of children’s songs, songs about men and women, tuk band songs and work songs. This has become a standard source for Barbadian folk traditions, and a new edition is welcome.

Tigress: A Caribbean Love Story

Valerie Belgrave (Port of Spain 1996: ISBN 976-8157-15-1 )

This is a simple love story, in the style of Mills and Boon or Summer Romances. What makes it different is the setting in Trinidad, and the curious twists and turns that bring the two main characters together and seal their relationship. Valerie Belgrave is a Trinidadian batik artist who has taken a deliberate decision to write populist fiction. At the narrative level the book seems to unravel predictably enough; but there is enough to make it true in a Trinidadian context. Certainly there are homes like Antonia’s grandparents’, and people like her and Beep and her mother Maria and Elliot Wharton, and even landowners like her father Anthony Fitzgerald. So why shouldn’t there be a tall rugged Trinidad naturalist who tangles with a fiery-tempered girl whose cat eyes and unruly hair earned her the name Tigress? A “bad drive” at the beginning, fighting a forest fire and delivering a baby, lead inexorably to the long kiss in the end. Valerie Belgrave’s persistence in fuelling a Caribbean publishing industry is commendable.