Monday, February 22, 2010

World literature? Try the Caribbean

There are many good, and even great novels in the English language that do not originate in the USA and the UK, but most readers have never heard of them. Although small presses often publish these books, they have a hard time getting the metropolitan bookstores to stock them despite their best efforts.

So what's a Caribbean (or African, or Asian) writer to do? I'm a great believer in the (allegedly) Ashanti proverb: Softly, softly catchee monkey. In the spirit of doing my small part to acquaint readers with non-mainstream works of merit, I'll share three of my favorite Caribbean novels and their writers, all from Trinidad and Tobago, with you.

The Friends by Rosa Guy

I have a special place in my heart for Rosa Guy: my first manuscript caught the attention of my literary agent initially because I shared a birthplace with this author. The Friends, which I read about fifteen years ago, is the first in a trilogy of young adult novels about the lives of Caribbean immigrants in Harlem during the 1960s. The novel explores issues of race and class prejudice, themes which were uncommon in young adult novels at the time of publication.

"[She] is the author of fifteen novels and is the editor and translator of several volumes. Guy, along with with John Oliver Killens, co-founded the Harlem Writer's Guild. Her work has received the Coretta Scott King Award, The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year citation, and the American Library Association's Best Book Award. She lives in New York." -

Night Calypso by Lawrence Scott

This book was influenced by the Bocas Islands about which I recently wrote on my personal blog. Part of the novel's allure for me was the familiarity of the setting, the history, and the culture, but along with that is the sheer appeal of story: a doctor, an attractive young nun and a traumatized boy are thrown together at a leper colony on a minute island in the middle of the Second World War, amid the roiling social and cultural changes taking place in Trinidad in the 1940s.

Scott is the author of
Aelred’s Sin which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1999 for Best Book in the Canada & Caribbean region.

The Dragon Can't Dance by Earl Lovelace

I've read at least five of Lovelace's novels, and this one remains my favourite. From Booklist:

season has just begun in Calvary Hill, a Port of Spain shantytown, and Miss Cleothilda, the carnival queen, and Aldrick, the dragon king, try to concentrate on creating their elaborate costumes, but both are distracted by a young beauty named Sylvia. The queen senses a rival, and Aldrick, famous for his avoidance of work and marriage, feels love coming on... As Lovelace masterfully choreographs the dance of each of his finely drawn characters, he reveals the conundrums not only of Caribbean life but of the human condition itself."

Lovelace's awards include:

  • 1965 British Petroleum Independence Literary Award, While Gods Are Falling
  • 1980 Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book), Salt

In my next post I'll feature the works of three more writers from other territories in the Caribbean.

Liane Spicer


Jewel Amethyst said...

Love the post Liane. I look forward to your second installment of books from the other islands as well. It is indeed a good way to bring attention to lesser known works of great writers.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Very interesting. It's good to find new authors and learn about their work.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, I'm looking forward to writing it myself. The region has produced Nobel Laureates in literature; we must be doing something right. More proof that size doesn't matter! ;)

Debs, finding new authors to love is one of my great joys.

Anonymous said...

The Dragon Can't Dance is in my Amazon shopping basket and will be in my hands by Friday if Trinidad Customs is not on strike. I just read the first few pages online and I have to read it.

Liane Spicer said...

akalol, I don't think you'll regret it! (Wasn't this book banned in some school here because it contains a 'bad' word? I seem to remember some sort of asinine uproar along these lines. O_O)