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The Caribbean Review of Books (New vol. 1, no. 19, February 2009)

A sample of the new CRB, as published by MEP until 2009

The

The Caribbean Review of Books, February 2009 in a linked chain of meanings. Hence the child in The Mask of the Beggar who meets the poor man in the street and cannot shake the man’s desperate face from his mind morphs into that homeless man as a stand-in for an elder from another ruined civilisation. The child who witnesses that face becomes the artistic mind forced to resolve what the encounter might mean for his adult event with the advantage of hindsight, foresight, insight, intuition, and whatever else we wish to call the creative act of imagination invested in myth, recall, sensory stimulus, and place. It occurs to me that I reacted to Harris’s admission to me exactly as he would have wanted someone who read his work to react: as a demonstration of my understanding of his imaginative procedure as Call for applications: Vera Rubin Residency for Caribbean Writers at Yaddo Harris’s quadrupled banks of space — analogously presented as a river, a living stream of thought and phenomenon — gesture to quantum mechanics, where vast geographical polarities exist in instantaneous parallels life and for the times he lives in. If the Beggar of the novel is Odysseus, returned in disguise to his kingdom and unrecognised by his countrymen, then the needs of the poor in a rich society surely should be a call on the conscience of the privileged to do something about the inequitable distribution of scarce resources. It signals, as well, how the past can be a stranger to the present just when the present needs to know that it is connected to the past. The adolescent who fell in the trench all those years ago and climbed out wet and sorry for the embarrassment planted himself in Harris’s memory. In the intervening fifty years, that incident languished with Harris until I walked with him along the same patch of ground. I cannot argue for past incarnations in present-day bodies, nor for the odd magic of synchronicity of time and events, but I may have spoken on behalf of that boy who fell. I took his place in a forum welcomed by Harris, the man who, back then when he was young and impetuous and mischievously playful, pushed that boy into the trench. As the young man that boy may have become, I walked that same road that was not the same road, in a different time that was the same time, and enabled a rehearsal of the rudiments of that past Guyana’s most original and compelling writer. In 1990, Harris published a novel titled The Four Banks of the River of Space in which figures from Amerindian myth pop into the contemporary world and challenge the novelist who is susceptible to these intrusions between myth and history, and where a continuum forms between landscapes imagined and real. Harris’s quadrupled banks of space — analogously presented as a river, a living stream of thought and phenomenon — gesture to quantum mechanics, where vast geographical polarities exist in instantaneous parallels. This makes me imagine the trench with two young men running along its dry, crenellated bed. One is Wilson, the other is that boy, and they are looking at two older men. One is Wilson, the other is me, as we walk along the bank, and the water that was there in the trench is suspended below us, above us in cloud, and all around us as moisture. I am looking at all this now in Virginia, and Wilson Harris may be thinking about it too in Chelmsford, England: that’s at least three rivers and twelve banks, right? This essay was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in December 2008. Yaddo, the artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, New York, welcomes creative artists working in all disciplines, including literature. Visitors receive room, board, studio space, and the opportunity to work without interruption for up to two months in a supportive community. Applications are reviewed by panels of professional artists highly respected in their fields. The Vera Rubin Residency for Caribbean Writers was formed to help Yaddo carry out its mission internationally by serving writers from the Caribbean. The residency provides round-trip transportation from the writers’ homes to Saratoga Springs, as well as underwriting the expenses of their visits. The deadline to apply for residencies from October 2009 to May 2010 is August 1, 2009. Applicants outside the United States should ensure they allow adequate time for their packages to arrive. For further information, or to download application forms, visit www.yaddo.org. Support the CRB The Caribbean Review of Books is a registered non-profit, depending on the support of its readers and other donors. Support Caribbean literature’s journal of record by subscribing, or make a donation via our website: www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com 32

The Caribbean Review of Books, February 2009 Also noted Other new and recent books Molly and the Muslim Stick, by David Dabydeen (Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 978-0-2300-2870-8, 179 pp), the sixth novel by the Guyana-born writer, traces the progress of a young woman born at the end of the First World War, from a grim mining town in the north of England to Coventry in the aftermath of the Blitz — and thence to the interior of Guyana, after the apparition of a mysterious stranger. When the “boy-man” she calls Om turns up on her doorstep, trailing leaves and twigs, Molly’s already unconventional life takes a turn for the truly fantastic — or perhaps the truly lunatic. Songster and Other Stories, by Jennifer Rahim (Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 978-184-523-0487, 145 pp), a collection of short fiction by the Trinidadian writer best known for her poems (Mothers Are Not the Only Linguists, 1992; Between the Fence and the Forest, 2002). Set mostly in contemporary Trinidad, these blunt, sometimes fierce stories survey a Caribbean reality far removed from the fantasies of tourist brochures and nostalgic novelists alike. “My island, which is my home, is the place that hurt me,” says the narrator of the final piece. “My home is a word without end, and its meanings thunder like the arrival of this sea.” The River’s Song, by Jacqueline Bishop (Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 978-184-523-0388, 181 pp), a heartwarming coming-ofage story set in Jamaica, by the former editor of the literary journal Calabash. As the novel opens, Gloria, the bright, lively daughter of an ambitious working-class mother, wins a scholarship to a prestigious girls’ high school. As Gloria grapples with Jamaica’s social realities and her own adolescent sexuality, she learns that the route to freedom and selffulfillment is not often a straightforward channel. “I envied the river’s certainty, the sense that it knew where it was going on its tried and true path to the sea.” Writing Life: Reflections by West Indian Writers, ed. Mervyn Morris and Carolyn Allen (Ian Randle Publishers, ISBN 978-976-637-329-0, 171 pp), a collection of essays by a range of Anglophone Caribbean writers, all considering “the writing life,” in all the meanings of that phrase — plus poems and stories by four more writers best known for their live performances. All the contributors — Derek Walcott, Erna Brodber, Olive Senior, Cecil Gray, Merle Hodge, Mark McWatt, to name just a few — participated in a conference at the University of the West Indies Mona campus in 2006. The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Labourers and African Slaves in Cuba, by Lisa Yun (Temple University Press, ISBN 978-1-59213-581-3, 311 pp), a groundbreaking analysis of the system of indentureship that brought over one hundred thousand Chinese labourers to Cuban sugar plantations in the mid-nineteenth century, where they toiled alongside African slaves. In 1874, the Chinese government sent a commission of enquiry to Cuba to investigate complaints of brutal treatment. The commissioners collected testimonies from 2,841 “coolies”; Yun engages this remarkable archive in “a deep and lengthy process of disclosure, one of unfixing entrenched binaries: slave versus free, black versus white, East versus West, Pacific versus Atlantic.” Caribbean Migration to Western Europe and the United States: Essays on Incorporation, Identity, and Citizenship, ed. Margarita Cervantes-Rodríguez, Ramón Grosfoguel, and Eric Mielants (Temple University Press, ISBN 978-1- 59213-954-5, 261 pp), a collection of data-rich papers, originally presented at a conference in Paris in 2002, contributing to the burgeoning field of Caribbean migration and diaspora studies. The authors — sociologists and anthropologists — focus on the Hispanic, French, and Dutch Caribbean as they examine “issues pertaining to incorporation, citizenship, and identity formation among immigrants who move between a geopolitically strategic, albeit subordinated, area of the world and core zones.” Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae, by Michael E. Veal (Wesleyan University Press, ISBN 0- 8195-6572-5, 338 pp), a historical analysis of the evolution of Jamaican dub which argues that “the production style of Jamaican music has helped transform the sound and structure of world popular music.” Veal believes that “the sounds and techniques of classic dub,” which developed in Kingston recording studios in the 1970s and 80s, “have been stylistically absorbed into the various genres of global electronic popular music.” He examines the specific styles and techniques of individual Jamaican sound engineers like “Scratch” Perry and “King Tubby” Ruddock, situates dub in the wider continuum of Jamaican popular music, and claims it as a vital ancestor of contemporary “remix culture.” A History of the Turks and Caicos Islands, ed. Carlton Mills (Macmillan Caribbean, ISBN 978-1-4050-9894-6, 300 pp), a useful reference book compiled by a former minister of education, covering the landscape, flora, fauna, and political and social history of these northern Caribbean islands. More than a dozen authors contribute chapters on subjects including slavery and shipwrecks, and Mills himself wrote “The Road Ahead: The Constitutional Debate”; that road seems recently to have doubled back on itself, after the British authorities suspended the territory’s internal self-government and began an investigation into alleged corruption by Premier Michael Misick. 33

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