Book buzz | Reviews (May/Jun 2024)

This month’s reading picks from the Caribbean, with reviews by Shivanee Ramlochan of Ocean Stirrings by Merle Collins; What Start Bad a Mornin’ by Carol Mitchell; Belmont Portfolio by John Robert Lee; and Masman by Peter Minshall

  • Ocean Stirrings: Merle Collins
  • What Start Bad A Mornin' - A Novel
  • Belmont Portfolio poems: John Robert Lee
  • Masman: Peter Minshall

Ocean Stirrings

by Merle Collins (Peepal Tree Press, 440 pp, ISBN 9781845235529)

Longlisted for the 2024 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Grenadian Merle Collins’ Ocean Stirrings creatively envisions and animates the journey of Louise Langdon Norton Little, mother of prominent civil rights leader, Malcolm X. Collins’ narrative is speculative in the most honourable of senses, guided by a wealth of research and inquiry. From these pages, Little’s own mettle as an activist and agitator for meaningful change shines forth. Treading with both imaginative and methodical steps, the novel follows the actual progression of its subject’s life — from her childhood and adolescence in Grenada, adulthood in the United States and Canada, culminating in her unjust incarceration in a Michigan psychiatric institution. Above all, this is a richly empathetic rendering in fiction of a real-life person whose story remained almost entirely unsung. Ocean Stirrings anchors her history before us, asking whose voices are allowed to resound.

What Start Bad a Mornin’

by Carol Mitchell (Central Avenue, 272 pp, ISBN 9781771683838)

Amaya Lin, the protagonist of St Kitts & Nevis born Carol Mitchell’s debut adult novel, has pinned her life carefully in place: to be a consummate mother, wife, niece, and businesswoman. What Start Bad a Mornin’ shows what secrets and the past’s spectres do to even the most manicured of lives, triangulating events in Trinidad, Jamaica, and the United States. In gripping prose, Mitchell upends even the most innocuous expectations, piercing holes in the tidy narratives of “good immigrants” and “dutiful women” perpetuated by mainstream Western media. The novel asks provocative questions about the state of memory, prompting readers to contemplate just how much of their own pasts they’re comfortable with facing. Exploring dark histories, Amaya reflects, would be like strolling on a beach strewn with sea urchins, unpleasant surprises that were potentially treacherous unless you stopped to extract the spines.

Belmont Portfolio

by John Robert Lee (Peepal Tree Press, 64 pp, ISBN 9781845235659)

To reflect on an island — St Lucia — across collections of poems: John Robert Lee has done this work with true lyrical attentiveness. In his newest offering, Belmont Portfolio, St Lucia remains paramount, rooted in the writer’s devotions to beauty and its ephemerality. The poems speak plain truth that nothing pulchritudinous persists forever, but that the beauty of the land and its people linger beyond ordinary sight. The doors of Lee’s poetics are open and generous. Embedded in these verses are remembrances of Derek Walcott and Kamau Braithwaite. With Christian fealty that centres each poem as an act of ruminative service, the poet draws on progress. This is the pilgrim’s progress, making his way through a Caribbean land: at once intimately aware of its history and daunted by an impossibility to predict its future patterns. Of such honest fidelity are these poems hewn.

Masman

by Peter Minshall (The Minshall Mas Foundation, 96 pp, ISBN 9789768341037)

A pocket-sized wonder of a book, Peter Minshall’s Masman illustrates in print a speech presented by the indomitable Trinidadian arts veteran in 2000. Spectacularly intuitive in its design — doubtless an homage to the award-winning installations made by Minshall over the decades of his practice — reading Masman is like being in raucous conversation with the artist himself. The accompanying illustrations chosen to punctuate and embroider the speech feel as judiciously chosen. In black and white ink sketches, worlds of creative embodiment fairly leap from their paper moorings. Young and less young Caribbean artists of every medium might do well to cleave to this tiny illumination, in word and drawing, of what art is for — why we make it, how we do it, how we might continue doing it in this, our most uncertain and perilous age. This work is a miniature treasury, hummingbird-esque.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
The views expressed on this website are those of the the authors and do not reflect those of the Direct Support Grants Programme.

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