Book: Trinidad Noir- The Classics
Editors: Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni
Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby
Trinidad Noir – The Classics is vintage Caribbean. It features the likes of the incomparable
Earl Lovelace, Derek Walcott, and V.S. Naipaul. It resoundingly captures the unique imagination of a people, and for all its jocularity, there is an unending search for meaning. But this is Caribbean life and expectedly against the backdrop of severe economic and political challenges, there is a joie de vivre, an undeniable spirit that soothes the wounded.
In Trinidad Noir every story speaks to you, some more than others. For the marginalized West Indian Diaspora in the United Kingdom decades ago, the game of cricket was empowering and a victory over their adopted country was significant. If hamstrung socially and economically, at least they could defeat the English at the very sport they invented.
Samuel Selvon’s The Cricket Match explores class, race and sports with wit and genius. “That is the way to play the game…you thought we didn’t know how to play the game, eh? That is cricket, lovely cricket,” we hear from one boastful West Indian to his English co-workers.
In CLR James’ perennial La Divina Pastora, Trinidad’s religio-cultural diversity is explored in depth. It’s evocative and written with a calm passion that grips the reader. It’s sentimentally magical, while invoking history and the yearning of the human spirit to transcend the mundane.
Michael Anthony is the traditional raconteur in The Valley of Cocoa. Measured and well-cadenced, he is adept at exploring his characters’ sensibilities. A young boy’s thirst for affection and attention is finally quenched when he befriends a repairman, who, is himself emotionally rewarded by the relationship.
Of the repairman, the boy recalls, “He had said this was one of the happiest days he had known. I heard him telling Father how he liked the valley so much and how much he liked the little boy. I had cried then…Quickly then I drew the curtains and latched the window. And I squeezed the pillow to me, for joy.’
Anthony invokes the spirit of nostalgia, making us reflect on our own experiences at the dawn of our lives.
Man-Man by V.S. Naipaul is a fast-paced, edgy narrative written with marked fluidity. It reaches a crescendo that is hardly predictable. Although farcical, it makes a statement on the importance of religion and the ostensible need for God. Was Man-Man a victim of his own psychopathology? Why are we so religiously moved by the most questionable of characters? We see weeping women and men who “put up the cross” upon which Man-Man sought his death.
In the end Man-Man, who sought crucifixion by stoning, comes to his senses and wails, “What the hell is this? What the hell you people think you doing? Look, get me down from this thing quick, let me down quick and I go settle with that son of a bitch who pelt a stone at me.”
Songster by Jennifer Rahim is revolting and vexing. It paints a gloomy picture of the human heart. It centres on privilege and the abuse of power. The spectre of race emerges, and the travails of the underdog, the defenceless, in the face of the rich and powerful bleed through every page.
A young man of promise and rare vocal talent is brutally gunned down presumably for trespassing on the property of “the Syrians.” Religious sermons and songs are the only balm for his loved ones. Their grief is cutting, palpable. The songster is immortal they lament.
“Michael is not resting. Oh no! You know why? Is because of the injustice the boldface-ness, the underhand dirtiness of them people who bring nothing but trouble…because they feel they could own even God sea.’ And the bitter commentary never abates.
“The greed of people that can’t satisfy till they buy heaven self… I not ‘fraid to talk it, brothers and sisters. But we know them people…They up to no good and that is what send Michael to his grave…”
And as if rubbing salt into an open wound, we learn that the Syrians “still there fencing up the place. They go on like nothing happen, fete throwing almost every weekend as normal, and they have a new security in black overalls with walkie-talkie and sunglasses walking up and down the yard…”
The wretchedness of existence continues in Harold Sonny Ladoo’s The Quiet Peasant, a moving tale of poverty and fatalism.
Willie Chen’s Assam’s Iron Chest is a work of wry humour that underscores the wit and shrewdness of the Chinese people. And pure comedy soars in Robert Antoni’s Hindsight.
Trinidad Noir is an inimitable work of art, a classical expose of the island’s literary giants.
For all its color it never falls short on its singular statement that the Caribbean people remain a distinctively creative force, a force that has ensured their survival.
Trinidad Noir -The Classics, edited by Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni 2017
Publisher: Akashic Books, Brooklyn, New York
Available at Amazon
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