The Silences, too, Deserve a Place

June 2017

Shalini Puri, The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present: Operation Urgent Memory (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); 341 pages; ISBN 978-0230120327 (hardcover)

In the years since the collapse of the Grenada Revolution (1979–83) and subsequent US invasion, recent scholarship has taken the charge to dive into the sea of memory and excavate collective trauma(s) in the wake of place, time, and space. For recent scholars, the Revolution’s silences continue to resonate and repeat, demanding further study.

Shalini Puri’s The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present: Operation Urgent Memory contributes to and intervenes in this scholarship on the Revolution. In this work, Puri assembles an array of sources—photographs, interviews, novels, television programs, cartoons, memorabilia sold on eBay, paintings, and scholarly accounts—to attend to the poetics of the Revolution and its memory. This assemblage allows Puri to curate a dialectical critique, tribute, and memorial of the Revolution, underscoring its current and unfolding consequences for Caribbean history, literature, politics, and culture. Furthermore, she examines how scale figures in the memory of the Revolution. Part and parcel to this project is Puri’s attention to landscape’s ability to visually assert that which is verbally silenced. She engages scholarship to think through landscape as an avenue to resist corporeal punishment, situating memory in a publicly accessible space. Puri’s study is a compelling contribution precisely because it is not a history of the Revolution. Rather, it is a meditation on memory: How is memory frail? How does memory survive? What are the unexpected sites and manners in which memory surfaces?

Puri’s introduction outlines her arguments, stakes, and implications for revisiting the Revolution. Her reverence to sight, sound, and touch is paramount. “I want to listen not just for the Revolution as a grand state project,” Puri writes, “but also for the affection and intimacy with which people referred to it as ‘the revo’” (14). In order to affectively and intimately listen, she coins the term literary fieldwork as a method that moves beyond literary criticism and toward an emphasis on the porosity of texts. For Puri, literary texts develop bustling, colliding conduits every day between “literary arts, the other arts, and the placed” (24). Extant scholarship on the Revolution focuses on historical facts, providing well-rounded and thorough analyses of Grenada’s experiences of democratic socialism, vanguardism, and militarism during the revolutionary project. Puri, however, forgoes completion and directs scholars to explore fragments and fragmentation. She juxtaposes conflicting accounts and remembrances of the Revolution in order to allow the shadows to speak, unencumbered. In so doing, Puri unearths an intra-Left story in the Caribbean, whose political literacy requires careful attention to the impulses that shift militarism and vanguardism into democratic socialist practices. Concurrently, she acknowledges some gaps in the narrative resulting from her inability to complete fieldwork and archival research in Dominica, Cuba, and Suriname.

The silences, too, deserve a place in the memory of the Grenada Revolution.

Puri’s interest in a poetics of place guides her eleven chapters as she weaves geography and memory along an illuminating journey across time and space. She begins in the 1970s, capturing the fervor that gave way to the popularity of the Revolution and the People’s Revolutionary Government’s economic and social welfare projects. At the same time, Puri traces the critiques of the Revolution that stemmed from the government’s shutdown of liberal newspapers, imprisonment of dissidents, failure to hold elections, militarization of society, shift from grassroots organizing to establishing a Party, divisions over joint leadership, and the house arrest and release of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. These fractures culminated in the killing of Bishop and his comrades at Fort Rupert on 19 October 1983. The ensuing US invasion—Operation Urgent Fury—six days later, emerged as an opportunity not only for the United States to assert its imperial power in the Caribbean but also for the United States to implement the lessons learned from Vietnam and redeem its global status, especially in media reporting. The incommensurability of Grenada’s small size and the US military’s magnitude, Puri contends, gave rise to the “human interest story” genre in US reporting as a tool to mediate small and large scales: “Like eye-witness accounts, human interest stories also depend upon getting ‘up-close’ to get the truth, but eyewitness accounts need not be structured by reader-identification or intimacy” (114–15). Given that most US journalists arrived in Grenada after the invasion, popular US reporting offered aesthetic resolutions and happy endings. Yet as US reporting and successive commemorations strived for a uniform and smooth victory, local accounts reveal a deeper story of miscommunication, miscalculations, and internal dissent.

Alongside these officially choreographed memories, Puri calls on involuntary, unruly, and unsanctioned memories through the metaphor of Kick ’em Jenny, the active submarine volcano off the coast of Grenada. Analyzing the works of scholars and artists that include Brian Meeks, Merle Collins, Canute Caliste, Kendel Hippolyte, and Paul Keens-Douglas, Puri recounts the moments in which volatile memory stresses form, allowing the gaping holes in narrative to resist sanitation. What is more, the archipelagic place of the Grenada Revolution—the migratory flows between Grenada and the wider Caribbean region—made the Revolution “a profoundly Caribbean event” (173). The Grenadian story is dispersed and “refracted through other islands and other continents” (201). With this in mind, Puri insists that despite implosion, the Revolution survives through breath, making and remaking memories and connections across the archipelago. The island’s susceptibility to natural disasters such as hurricanes, however, intensifies the fragility and impermeability of these memories. Even though these natural disasters, as in the case of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, prompt the transformation of the landscape, sway the political discourse, and destroy physical archives, they also activate and redirect memory.

In the concluding chapters, Puri explores the narratives by and about the “Grenada 17” (the seventeen political, military, and civilians convicted of crimes related to overthrowing Prime Minister Bishop’s government). Here, she uses anonymous fragmented clips of interviews, conversations, radio show call-ins, and writing to understand how Richmond Hill Prison has functioned as a place of both incarceration and unexpected reconciliation. In addition, Puri addresses the predicaments and possibilities of a post–Grenada Revolution Left by looking at texts and practices that elude tragedy. Central to Puri’s closing investigation is her ability to expose the lure of authoritarianism in leftist circles, questioning how the Left can democratize its internal processes, civil society, and the state while contesting antagonism from global capitalism and rightist forces. For Puri, memory of the Revolution, beyond the tragedy and trauma of its downfall, affords contemporary Caribbean socialist practices a space to refuse both the authoritarianism of the past and the inequalities of the present. She hopes that Grenadian youth will use her text as one tool to remember possible futures from the Revolution. “It is up to the living,” Puri testifies, “to ensure that the legacy of the Grenada Revolution for which so many struggled is neither the abandoning of socialism nor it adoption as a formula to be merely followed or mechanically enforced, but rather a vibrant tradition of debate and a zone of inventive practice” (274).

Puri’s work is in direct conversation with recent multidisciplinary analyses of the Grenada Revolution including David Scott’s Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice (2013), Wendy Grenade’s The Grenada Revolution: Reflections and Lessons (2015), and the collection Grenada: Revolution and Invasion (2015), edited by Patsy Lewis, Gary Williams, and Peter Clegg. While a deep engagement with how contemporary youth in Grenada and throughout the Caribbean have organized around the memory of the Grenada Revolution is missing, Puri’s text is useful for those interested in Caribbean studies, Africana studies, American studies, literary methods, Caribbean history, English, trauma studies, international relations, and peace and conflict studies. It is a significant contribution across these fields, especially for those exploring archival writing in the context of radical social movements in the Caribbean.


Warren Harding is a doctoral student in Africana studies and a master’s student in comparative literature through the Open Graduate Education program at Brown University. His research engages the works of Black Caribbean migrant women writers, and how these writers negotiate belonging at the intersection of gender, race, sexuality, and nation. More broadly, he is interested in literary and cultural movements throughout the African diaspora and how these movements reverberate critical imaginings of resistance, survival, and freedom.