Book buzz | Reviews (Sep/Oct 2023)

This month’s reading picks from the Caribbean, with reviews by Shivanee N Ramlochan of A Fierce Green Place: New and Selected Poems by Pamela Mordecai; Tobago Son by John Arnold; No One Will Come Back For Us by Premee Mohamed; and King of Soca by Elizabeth Montano

  • A Fierce Green Place
  • Tobago Son
  • No one will come back for us
  • King of Soca

A Fierce Green Place: New and Selected Poems

by Pamela Mordecai (New Directions, 232 pp, ISBN 9780811231046)

What do 30-plus years of Pamela Mordecai’s poems present to us? A constellation of islands, interlocked by radical imaginings. Whether she resurrects the most timeless of biblical origin stories in the language of Jamaican Patois, or reaches into the everyday lives of girl-children, summoning their secrets with an aching tenderness, Mordecai’s poems have been speaking to us — rapturously sure-footed — for decades. A Fierce Green Place assembles curations from her earliest collection to her newest, and demands we listen closer, with ensuing gratitude for the legacies of feminism, womanism, revolt, and sensuality embedded in each verse. “Yarn Spinner”, from the poet’s fifth collection, Subversive Sonnets, ends with an exhortation to a timeless weaver: What if / you die spinning a thread? Die, yes, but never dead … Such bounteous undying is on triumphant display herein.

Tobago Son

by John Arnold (Nibbles & Nooks, 216 pp, ISBN 9781958288030)

The piano has been my life. So begins the candid, contemplative memoir by Tobagonian musician, self-professed “eventologist”, and choral master John Arnold. Narrated by Arnold to Trinidadian writer Lisa Allen-Agostini, Tobago Son deftly and sensitively plays out an existence consecrated to music, particularly to music’s infinite capacity for community building. Co-founder of the renowned Signal Hill Alumni Choir, Arnold’s galvanic work in the trenches of Caribbean musical education has been nothing short of a career-defining, door-opening legacy: so what of the man responsible for making so many voices move in harmonious synchronicity? Here is a quintessential Tobagonian, hallmarked by industry, spiritual fervour, and a salt of the earth determination to be of service. That ethical marriage makes Tobago Son a joy to read; there are no glib self-aggrandisements here: only the sound, pealing so beautifully, of an icon.

No One Will Come Back For Us

by Premee Mohamed (Undertow Publications, 286 pp, ISBN 9781988964423)

Premee Mohamed already understands that the abyss stares back at us; she’s down there trussed up in rappelling gear, taking notes from the monsters in the chthonic darkness. No One Will Come Back For Us gathers short stories that blur the lines between genre horror and unheimlich suspense, not so much retelling Lovecraftian staples as defying them openly, armed with postcolonial ire. An Indo-Caribbean scientist of Guyanese heritage, Mohamed’s worldbuilding functions with primordial satisfaction because it comprehends the innate instabilities of power within both our real and speculative societies. These tellings are attuned to outsiders, underdogs, and peripheral dwellers of civilisation — disenfranchised researchers, sleep-deprived soldiers, journalists pursuing leads past their breaking points. Such stories aren’t survival manuals so much as precautions: proof that we inhabit our realities marginally and with danger.

King of Soca

by Elizabeth Montano (EESM, 332 pp, ISBN 9789769674905)

How do you chronicle the life’s work of a superstar whose path is still blazing with promise? If the luminary in question is Machel Montano, look no further than his mother for true archival integrity. In King of Soca, Elizabeth Montano’s biography of a soca titan without parallel, facts are as plentiful as glitter on the Carnival stage. But look more closely than the book’s handsome presentation — its full-colour photographs, its obvious physical cachet. Those admirable distinctions shine as they do because of the storytelling heart of this endeavour: tracing the creative, often literal footsteps of a musical savant, a record-breaking performer, a beloved son. Each pristine newspaper clipping, every album cover, each critical and congratulatory citation — Montano proffers them all with a biographer’s pristine eye for detail, presenting a living legend in the sum of his larger-than-life parts.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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