Caribbean Bookshelf (January/February 2013)

This month’s reading picks — from fiction to poetry to theatre

Our Pick

Daughters of Empire, by Lakshmi Persaud (Peepal Tree Press, 334 pp, ISBN 9781845231873)

For Amira Vidhur and her family, life in 1970s London presents challenges far different to those of their comfortably upper-middle-class Trinidadian existence.

Daughters of Empire tracks the resilient, culturally conscious (yet not invulnerable) Vidhur clan through decades of growth and betrayal.

If the current climate surrounding immigrant reception in former colonising nations remains lukewarm, then the Mill Hill that the Vidhurs must confront fairly teems with xenophobia. When Amira’s daughters are casually stoned and verbally abused on their way back from school (an expensive private school, no less, into which Amira has rallied to have them accepted), it is a reminder not just of 1970s and 80s culture and race conflict, but of tensions that linger in the full heat of resentment. This is one of the novel’s central triumphs, the way it explores discrimination of all varieties: racism, sexism, patriarchy, finding agitators and allies in the most unlikely of characters.

Persaud’s descriptive prose glows most convincingly when describing the pockets of island vibrancy scattered throughout British homesteads. Culinary delights act as a respite from the uncertain fortunes of the world — in Daughters of Empire, the attention given to meal preparation solders rural Trinidadian communities. Amira, the family’s matriarch, shepherds her three daughters with wisdom, forbearance, and fine traditional cooking. She is perhaps the most compelling figure of the lot, a protagonist drawn with humour and candour, in whom old worlds meet new. Like fragrant spices packed into foreign market stalls, Daughters of Empire woos and lulls even the most jaded of sensibilities into the possibility of imagining better.

Shivanee Ramlochan, Bookshelf editor

Fault Lines
, by Kendel Hippolyte (Peepal Tree Press, 78 pp, ISBN 9781845231941)

There are entire islands of sound and rhythm packed into St Lucian poet and dramatist Kendel Hippolyte’s verses, a tenet of his work that echoes resoundingly in his newest collection. In his hands, the Caribbean’s ever-capricious nature is examined with the roundness and unpredictability that belongs to islands everywhere. Poems such as the last in the collection, “Archipelago”, reinforce an awareness that one’s “littoral shape is never final,” presenting possibilities as far-ranging as they are exciting. These vast contemplations of rock, sea, and coastline nestle comfortably against vignette-style slices of life. Fault Lines declares no subject minor or commonplace, focusing on neatly attired schoolchildren, villages that vanish the closer one drives, or the poet himself, who can be three people at once.


Lantana Strangling Ixora, by Sasenarine Persaud (TSAR, 76 pp, ISBN 9781894770729)

Canada-based Guyanese Sasenarine Persaud’s most recent collection sees brisk, startling re-engagements as well as separations: lovers are brought together and cast asunder, while the landscape remains fierce, and ultimately most truthful to itself. Indo-Caribbean iconography moors many of the poems: in “Sir VSN Sends Greetings to Walcott on Halloween”, one fabled poet invokes “Upanishadic seeking and ashram laughter” in his address to the other. Journeys to the past are juxtaposed with the present disenfranchisement of our lonely youth. Lantana Strangling Ixora subverts traditional expectations for a diasporic series of poems, replacing them with something altogether more intriguing and, one imagines, enduring.


Pak’s Britannica: Articles by and Interviews with David Dabydeen, ed. Lynne Macedo (University of the West Indies Press, 224 pp, ISBN 9789766402563)

In Pak’s Britannica, David Dabydeen’s critical work is neatly sub-divided into articles composed by and interviews featuring the long-established Guyanese writer, recipient of the 2007 Hind Rattan Diasporic Award. Those partial to Dabydeen’s energetic interrogations of West Indian literature and the structures that support it will find much of his best work reissued here. The collection tidily ranges from a 1985 essay examining commerce and slavery in eighteenth-century English literature to a 2010 interview in which the critic converses with Karen Raney on the notion of visual literacy, and how this bears out in his own poetry. An essential addition to any Dabydeen acolyte’s library, Pak’s Britannica serves the writer up for our own interrogation, an analysis to be conducted very much on the sum of his artistic parts.


The Jamaican Theatre: Highlights of the Performing Arts in the Twentieth Century, by Wycliffe and Hazel Bennett (University of the West Indies Press, 362 pp, ISBN 9789766402266)

“Wycliffe Bennett . . . has probably done more than any other person in Jamaica to make the entire country aware of its cultural future.” So wrote Derek Walcott fifty years ago, in an article reprinted in The Jamaican Theatre, Bennett’s magnum opus: an illustrated history of drama, dance, and stage music in Jamaica in the twentieth century. Bennett, who died in 2009, “saw almost every theatrical production of note in this period,” and directed or produced many of them. This ample volume — completed after his death by his co-author wife — enlivens archival research with personal recollection, and ranges from the foreign touring companies that once played at the historic Ward Theatre to the popular roots theatre and TV drama of the present day. The photographs alone are probably worth the cover price.

Philip Sander


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