31 August 2012
Loretta Collins Klobah, The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman (London: Peepal Tree, 2011); 102 pages; ISBN 1845231848 (paper).
Given the myriad places and cultural contexts one enters into in Loretta Collins Klobah’s The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman, one might be tempted to use the word journey to describe the diverse explorations in this collection. However, it soon becomes apparent that Klobah does not undertake any such sequential, comprehensive, or cohesive project. Instead, the twenty-nine poems read like a series of provocative ruminations by someone who has led a full, well-traveled life and who has judiciously opted to share only the most meaningful of these experiences. Read the rest of this entry »
31 August 2012
Andre Bagoo, Trick Vessels (Bristol, UK: Shearsman, 2012); 80 pages; ISBN 978-1848612037 (paper).
In a lecture given on 12 January 1962, on the “origins of poetry,” Derek Walcott says of “the good poet” that “he is and has always been the vessel, vates, rainmaker, the conscience of the king and the embodiment of the society even when society is unable to contain him.” Walcott opines that poetry at its highest involved both magic and personal industry and intense communion between poet and society. This is the tension within Andre Bagoo’s debut collection, Trick Vessels. Let me say that it is an inherent and inevitable tension, not merely for Bagoo but for the poet in the West Indies. Yet, what makes this peculiarly the tension of Andre Bagoo’s Trick Vessels? The collection begins with, as an epigraph, the definition of a “trick vessel” taken from A History of Engineering in Classical and Medieval Times: “The action of the device is as follows: three liquids of different colours are poured into a hole in the cover of the jar in succession; shortly after all the liquid has been poured in, the liquids discharge from an outlet pipe in the same succession” (9). Read the rest of this entry »
31 August 2012
Barbara J. Webb
James C. Hall and Heather Hathaway, eds., Conversations with Paule Marshall (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2010); 240 pages; ISBN 978-1604737431 (hardcover).
The Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat dedicated her first collection of short stories, Krik? Krak!, to Paule Marshall, “the greatest kitchen poet of them all,” acknowledging the older writer’s power as a storyteller and Marshall’s own account of the inspiration she received from the West Indian women who gathered in her mother’s kitchen to talk. In Conversations with Paule Marshall, Hall and Hathaway include an introduction and chronology that give an overview of Marshall’s work from the publication of her first novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, in 1959, to her 2009 memoir, The Triangular Road; in fact, Conversations serves as a useful companion piece to the memoir. The importance of Marshall as a pathfinder and literary role model for a younger generation of black women writers is evident in this book of conversations and interviews that take place over 1970–2009, the last four decades of her extraordinary fifty-year writing career. Read the rest of this entry »
28 May 2012
Tzarina T. Prater
Kerry Young, Pao: A Novel (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2011); 270 pages; ISBN 978-1608195077 (paper).
Kerry Young’s first novel, Pao, opens in 1945 at the close of World War II, with a romance. The central protagonist is the titular Pao, a Chinese Jamaican who emigrates with his family to Jamaica during the interwar period. The narrative action begins with Pao and his “boys” hanging out in his shop, when in walks Gloria Campbell, a black prostitute and madam, seeking help to avenge her sister who has been savagely beaten by a white American sailor. Pao’s attraction to Gloria is immediate, and despite their differences they embark on a lifelong relationship. The strength of Pao’s feelings for Gloria is not enough to challenge the edicts of his father figure/mentor, “Uncle” Zhang, who is the leader of illegal activity in Chinatown. Pao is forbidden to marry a black woman who does not do “honourable” work and is instructed to find a “proper” Chinese woman who can give him access to respectability and old world patriarchal power. Marriage, Pao is told, “is not for celebrating. It is something you do to give your children a name” (6). Eventually Pao does just that. He finds a woman who embodies what is “proper”—Fay Wong, daughter of Henry Wong, a Chinese supermarket owner, and Cicely Wong, a black Jamaican woman. Read the rest of this entry »
28 May 2012
Raphael Dalleo, Caribbean Literature and the Public Sphere: From the Plantation to the Postcolonial (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011); 320 pages; ISBN 978-0813931999 (paper).
This is an ambitious, original study of the literary public sphere that moves across Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico with confidence, keeping multiple literary histories in play simultaneously, while helping to forge a vital sense of a regional history. Any lingering idea of the postcolonial as a largely, if not solely, anglophone preoccupation is vigorously challenged here, as, for instance, when the testimonio’s robust ties to Latin American studies and South Asian subaltern studies are utilized to reflect on Cuba and Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s. In this study the United States is part of a sustained conversation with the regional Caribbean—as succeeding and partnering with European imperialism; as offering competing visions of modernity; as making concerns about the capitalist marketplace more explicit, more hysterical, and more nuanced. Read the rest of this entry »
28 May 2012
Jeremy M. Glick
Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012); 448 pages; ISBN 978-0805093353 (hardcover).
One of the many extraordinary mise-en-scènes framing Laurent Dubois’s Haiti: The Aftershocks of History initiates “Sacrifice,” a chapter in the book that begins with an examination of the failure of the United States and the Vatican to diplomatically recognize Haiti:
In December 1859, an elaborate official funeral was held in the cathedral of Port-au-Prince. The Haitian president, Fabre Geffrard, oversaw the proceedings, while the head Catholic priest of Port-au-Prince officiated a high mass. In the nave of the church was the coffin, draped in black, lit up by candles, and decorated with an inscription naming the deceased as a “martyr for the cause of the blacks.” After a rousing eulogy, it was carried to a cross at the edge of town by a large procession that brought together many of the town’s most prominent citizens. But the coffin was never placed in the ground, for it was empty. (135) Read the rest of this entry »
28 May 2012
Miriam Jiménez Román and Juan Flores, eds., The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); 566 pages; ISBN-13 978-0-8223-4572-5 (paper).
In the recent PBS series Black in Latin America, the renowned African American scholar Henry Louis Gates travels through various Latin American countries to trace the history of the 11.5 million Africans who were brought to this region as slaves. In every episode, the eminent Harvard professor appears surprised when encountering solid evidence showing the important role Africans and their descendants have played in the history and culture of Latin America. Gates learns about such important figures as Vicente Guerrero and José María Morelos, in Mexico, and Antonio Maceo, in Cuba—Afro-Latin Americans who fought tirelessly for their nations’ independence from Spain. Early in the series, Gates admits that he knew little about Latin America and the region’s significant African heritage. And he adds that prior to conducting this research, he, like many in the United States, made distinctions between African Americans and Latinos as if the two were distinct ethnic or racial categories. One of the most poignant moments in the series occurs while Gates is visiting Mexico’s Costa Chica region, an area with a vibrant and marked Afro-Mexican presence. While there, Gates discovers that Mexico isn’t just a “mestizo” nation, a mix of Spanish and Native American, as many scholars have claimed; it is also black, despite the apparent erasure of the millions of African slaves and their descendants from official history. During his visit, Gates makes an extraordinary declaration, “If the ‘one drop rule’ was applied to Mexico, all of these people would be black.” Read the rest of this entry »
25 February 2012
Charles V. Carnegie
Rahul Bhattacharya, The Sly Company of People Who Care (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011); 278 pages; ISBN 978-0-374-26585-4 (hardcover).
Rahul Bhattacharya has given us a sweet, magical lime of a first novel. Lush with the irony and warmth squeezed into its paradoxical title—The Sly Company of People Who Care—this travel narrative set in Guyana rewards at every turn. The narrator is a young man in his twenties who has “walked all the way from India” (86) and gotten caught up with the spirit of the place. As a journalist he once covered an international cricket tour in Guyana, and now he has returned for a year of exploration and self-discovery. This “slow ramblin’ stranger” (3) plunges into the everyday lives of his Guyanese hosts, illuminating all he experiences with keenly sympathetic ethnographic insight and rendering these adventures into lyrical description.
With deftness and empathy the narrator sketches the social and spatial-temporal coordinates of the Guyanese imagination: the often cruel local mythologies of race; the sensuous and varied texture of days and nights and seasons of heat and rain; the qualities of light; the intimacies of place. Read the rest of this entry »
25 February 2012
Eric Walrond, In Search of Asylum: The Later Writings of Eric Walrond, ed. Louis J. Parascandola and Carl A. Wade (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2011); 224 pages; ISBN 978-0813035604 (hardcover).
When the New York based writer Eric Walrond (1898–1966) published Tropic Death, a 1926 collection of stories set in the Caribbean, it was not universally acclaimed, but both critics and proponents recognized it as new and significant. Its modernist narrative techniques and its refusal to sentimentalize or propagandize prompted frequent comparisons to Jean Toomer’s Cane, which it outsold two to one, and Walrond was heralded as one of the most promising of the New Negro writers in Harlem. Cane is now required reading for students of American modernism and African American studies, while Tropic Death has been out of print for decades, and few know about its eccentric, peripatetic author. In Panama, the country of which Walrond considered himself “spiritually a native” and whose West Indian migrants figured prominently in his fiction, he is unknown outside of specialized academic circles. Read the rest of this entry »
25 February 2012
Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011); 204 pages; ISBN-13 978-0-8263-3904-1 (paper).
Christopher Schmidt-Nowara’s approach to slavery’s history in Latin America is commendable for various reasons. First, because it highlights and demonstrates that variability was the essential character of the institution in the region. Second, as noted in the title, it illuminates the Atlantic dimension of African slavery and gives a full representation of the factors that over time determined slavery politically and economically, beyond Latin America. It is of course a daunting task to attempt to cover the history of slavery and colonialism in Latin America, and the challenge is even greater when doing so with a careful eye on the slavery’s Atlantic connections. Schmidt-Nowara fulfills both with erudition and clarity. Read the rest of this entry »