Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Truth be told, we’ve been having a spot of bother, keeping Mr. Loverman (Penguin UK, 2013) firmly planted on our shelves. Already on our second shipment of this, Bernardine Evaristo’s seventh book, it’s easy to see what makes it a surefire seller. For one thing, it’s got a storyline you can’t shake a stick at, so swiftly do the pages fly by in its bacchanal-infused telling. Barrington Jedidiah Walker, Esq., Barry to his friends, is perpetually sharp-suited and smooth-witted. He’s a veritable dandy who walks the streets of his Hackney neighbourhood with equal parts panache and well monied élan. Barry has held a secret close to his chest for most of his life, keeping it under wraps from his wife Carmel, a long-suffering religious zealot, and their two daughters. He hides it from everyone who forms a part of his immediate and extended society, save one Morris Courtney de la Roux. This is because Morris himself is the secret. He has been the object of Barry’s private ardour ever since, as the latter puts it, “we was both high-pitched, smooth-cheeked mischief makers waiting for we balls to drop.”

Ian Thomson, in his review of the novel for The Spectator (UK), concludes his glowing assessment by declaring, “It is to be hoped that Bounty Killer will read and enjoy this tender, even trailblazing novel (in or out of tight trousers).” Thomson’s reference to the Jamaican dancehall artist (and longtime anti-gay advocate) isn’t accidental: Mr. Loverman confronts hot-button issues of gender, sexuality and identity politics with unflinching commitment. From flashbacks of forbidding Antiguan village life, to present-day gay club scenes and domestic confrontations, readers have a front row seat to the unfurling drama that envelops Barry, and the big decision he must make.

Mr. Loverman isn’t afraid to wear the brightest colours in the public square, declaring to all and sundry that it’s well worth your time, your laughter, and the hours of animated chatter it’s sure to prompt in its (frankly, fabulous) wake.

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Our Book Club Pick: As Flies to Whatless Boys by Robert Antoni

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Published by Akashic Books, 2013

“… there was something gentle & easy & comforting in the island’s mere presence before us: its hazy solidity. The indisputable fact of its simply being there — only a stone’s throw away — despite its dreamlike appearance. And those of us still leaning up against the rail, still gazing through the descending dark, found it difficult, almost painful, to turn we backs to it.”

The year is 1845, and the utopianist visionary, John Adolphus Etzler, is setting sail for Trinidad, along with his fantastical invention, the Satellite, and the members of his Tropical Emigration Society. Among their rank and file is young William “Willy” Tucker and his family, seeking a better life away from their low-class, East End London existence.  Willy, truth be told, is transfixed by the mute beauty Marguerite, also on board the Rosalind — he and Marguerite are from different worlds in England, but he hopes that in this brave new world, he and his sweetheart might tread the same path.

Life holds stark revelations when the Tropical Emigration Society docks in Port-Spain, and Etzler’s machines are put to the test, with drastically useless results. How will these beached migrants fare in the island’s jungle morasses, especially when the “Black Vomit” (yellow fever) begins to snare the travellers, one by one?

Non-fiction category winner of the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize, Edwidge Danticat, praises Antoni’s novel as “a marvel, layered in histories… an unforgettable and matchless work of fiction.” We couldn’t agree with her more: Antoni’s prose pushes linguistic and traditional text-format boundaries in the best way. As Flies to Whatless Boys was Paper Based’s final official book launch of 2013, a fact of which we’re especially proud. Held on December 14th, the event boasted a capacity audience, each of whom listened, rapt, while Antoni read segments of his book — of particular delight was his rendition of the infamous Miss Ramsol character. (Readers who’ve enjoyed Antoni’s story, “How to Make Photocopies in the Trinidad & Tobago National Archives”, from the Trinidad Noir anthology, will recognize the boisterous, colourful character immediately.)

The novel’s immense range; its clarity and depth; its irrepressible sense of humour despite bleak circumstances; the way it tackles historical documentation with a neo-archivist’s repurposing zeal: these and other reasons are why we’re thrilled to proclaim As Flies to Whatless Boys our January Book Club pick! Have a look at our reading circle questions below — if you’ve read the book, do share your thoughts with us, and feel free to add questions of your own in our Comments section.

Discussion Questions for As Flies to Whatless Boys:

  • The novel is opened with two epigraphs: one from William Shakespeare’s King Lear, and one from “The Schooner’s Flight” by Derek Walcott. Which of these do you find ties in more directly to the heart of the book?
  • Many of the people and events in the novel have their basis in historical fact. What do you think of this marriage of fiction to reality? Do you think some historical figures and happenings ought never be creatively interpreted, or do you think everything that’s happened in History is worth exploring imaginatively?
  • Miss Ramsol, director of the Trinidad & Tobago National Archives, has been described as “the best thing about the book” — do you agree? What do you think her letters add to the novel (or would you have preferred the book without them?)
  • Willy and Marguerite share an unconventional romance, most of which unfurls aboard the Rosalind. Do you think their relationship would have been possible in nineteenth century London? What other unconventional relationships exist in the book?
  • John Adolphus Etzler could be said to be both a charlatan and a visionary: are there any Etzler-esque, larger than life con artists in today’s world? Do you think you would have been tempted to sign up for the Tropical Emigration Society?
  • The bond between Willy Tucker and his father is a moving one, explored in the novel in a variety of ways. Which interaction between the two Tuckers most moved you, and which piece of advice given from father to son, did you find most meaningful?
  • Does your favourite moment of the novel take place on the sea, or on the land; in England, or in Trinidad; in the nineteenth century, or in 2010? Do you feel, by novel’s end, that Willy has made the right choices — and how would you choose, were you in his shoes?

Previous Book Club Picks:

Wishing for Wings by Debbie Jacob
Between Bodies Lie by H. M. Blanc

She Sex: Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

The inaugural publication of Bamboo Talk Press, She Sex could rightly be regarded as a trailblazing, transformative work, concerned with showcasing the innermost erotic stories of Caribbean Women. Some truths about women’s sexuality — its practices; its taboos; the secrets it dares not reveal — are typically kept close to the chest, as the anthology’s co-editor, Paula Obé, mentions in the book’s introduction. Obé continues, saying, “Sometimes shadows need to be lit to take away that fear.”

Several of these pieces tackle achingly difficult subjects revolving around the female body and psyche, bringing them to the page with emotional fervour that lingers long after first readings. These contributors aren’t afraid to bare their teeth, whether they’re recounting the electric thrills associated with initial sensual encounters, or casting blame squarely in the laps of sexual predators. Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné’s poems lilt with a deep, quietly authoritative energy. In “Mother of Water”, the poem’s narrator triumphantly declares:

“I will not wear this gift
of well made shame
passed down to me.
I am a woman not buried
quite so easily.”

Lisa Allen-Agostini’s poem, “The Tiniest Tabanca”, delves energetically into Trinidadian Creole to probe the shocking hurt of a theft, one that leaves the subject of the piece sliced open with the intensity of loss. The line “sharp sharp knife cutting skin and flesh and bone like butter hand slip you crying onion tears slow surprising pain you never look for” conveys this in fluid urgency.

In the prose section, “No Lipstick for Me” by Kavita Ganness reveals the narrator’s inner turmoil, in the wake of a harrowing act of male-inflicted trauma. Ganness’ piece sees the protagonist alternating between outrage and bemusement, vacillating helplessly before she takes her defense into her own hands, in an act of exultant aggression. One of the early lines of the story warns, “…terrible things happen, it’s inevitable in most cases — like women dirtying their lips with lipstick.”

The collection features the work of several other writers, including talents from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Bermuda, making it a truly collaborative regional project. Indispensable for women and men who want to read true erotic tales from our societies, She Sex will prompt both delight and dismay, in competing measure.

A Kind of Eden by Amanda Smyth

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

2013, Serpent’s Tail

Martin Rawlinson realizes that Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean nation to which he has emigrated for work purposes, is a contradictory sort of paradise: beauty abounds on those shores, to be sure… but at what price are the islands’ attractions to be enjoyed? Our protagonist is a top police officer, recruited by the local government in an effort to take T & T’s burgeoning crime rates to task. He finds intoxicating pleasure in the arms of the much-younger Safiya, a precocious town-based journalist with a worldly air that feels more mysteriously inherited than contrived. The previously-staid married man persistently disregards the comfortable yoke of convention in an attempt to absorb as much of Safiya into his bloodstream as is possible. How, then, will he navigate the presence of his wife Miriam and daughter Georgia, when they arrive on the island, cherished but distracting reminders of the English life that trails in his wake? Worse still,  how will Martin respond when an unspeakable act of violence shatters the idyll he has constructed for himself on this deceptive Trinbagonian terrain?

Eminently readable, this second novel by Smyth packs powerful punches with more bite to their seductive force than initially seems apparent. Using Martin’s journey as a kind of psychologically and emotionally involved construct, she prompts readers to explore the depths of their perceptions about paradise, and its mirror opposite. While reading A Kind of Eden, you may ask yourself: can a landscape ever be ambivalent, when it’s been populated by people with such deep and conflicting desires?

As with some of the most thought-provoking fiction, Smyth’s sophomore work provides no easy answers, offering up in the place of clear solutions a series of startling, beautifully-constructed revelations, written in visually resonant prose.

Speaking of Promises by Debbie Jacob

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

SpeakingPromises

Debbie Jacob curates a weekly Sunday Arts Section Book Club for the Trinidad Guardian, where her musings on books, authors and the fascinating world of reading are always a pleasure to explore. She tackles both local and international literature, and her perspectives on characters, themes and symbols lend themselves to a generous circumference of interpretation: much like this 2011 collection of short fiction she’s penned. Speaking of Promises was released by Archimedes Publishers, and contains fourteen stories, each of which focuses on aspects of the Trinidadian spirit in unique ways.

It’s evident from the first handful of stories that Jacob understands the complexity of human character — she serves up compelling portraits of men, women and children living on the frontlines of difficult decisions, making choices that will affect themselves, as well as those they love and disdain. These aren’t black-and-white, simplistic narratives; far from it, as the author takes time to develop the inner thought processes of would be heroes and possible schemers alike. “Graduation Day” provides a heart-wrenching platform for consideration of the troubled waters often stirring between hardworking mothers and their less than grateful daughters: the story packs a punch line sure to sting one’s eyes with tears. Not all the short stories are as agonizing: levity abounds in “Crime Watch”, wherein two amateur sleuths (with a touch too much time on their hands) see the scales of justice tip into work — just decidedly not in the way they were expecting!

Jacob, who has also authored the 2005 Macmillan Caribbean title for young readers, Legend of the St. Ann’s Flood, is a fiction writer of both perspicacious viewpoint and sensitive heart, this combination undeniably prompts a  level of storytelling that soars.

Near Open Water by Keith Jardim

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Writing for the T & T Guardian’s Sunday Arts Section, book club coordinator Debbie Jacob describes Near Open Water in terms of its importance as a firestarter for serious conversation on our nation’s fragmented fortunes. Jacob reports, on Jardim’s first collection of short ficton, that it “allows us to talk about many important issues in our society. It also allows us to look at how family and culture shape our lives.”

Indeed, each of these twelve stories of Near Open Water prompts serious consideration of our various Trinbagonian identities: the ones we parade about in so-called polite company, versus the ones we unleash when cornered by the savage hiss of the wild. There are many selves within us all, and it is to this frequently metaphysical examination that Jardim pays keen attention. Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2011, the collection was longlisted for the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Bodies of water are never too far away from these narratives: in Jardim’s nuanced storytelling voice, the sea can represent as many multiplicities as the human psyche. A little boy’s beachcombing reverie takes a sinister turn in the collection’s first story, “In the Atlantic Field”. In “The White People Maid,” Cynthia encounters a folkloric figure, after witnessing a gruesome display of criminal cruelty at the grocery. Certain stories delve deeper into shades of the magically realist: in “Kanaima, Late Afternoon”, a man takes a journey that seems to lead him both closer to, and further from, that which he most desires.

A triumphantly unsettling debut from a talented voice in fiction, Near Open Water merits necessary reading for anyone interested in gleaning a complicated, elegantly wrought portrait of life in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a work not suited, perhaps, for the faint of sensibility, yet it will reward those who like their stories gritty and gleaming with difficult truths.

Is America She Gone? by Beverley-Ann Scott

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

GoneAmerica

Beverley-Ann Scott’s second novel bears the familiar markers of one of the Caribbean’s most severe, and self-perpetuating, cautionary tales: that of parents seeking opportunities for improved circumstances in foreign lands, leaving their children behind to uncertain fates. The protagonist of Is America She Gone?, Sandra, is one such aspiring mother. Devoid of financial or emotional support from the father of her two children, she decides to leave for Brooklyn, confident that in that seemingly-miraculous terrain of golden promise, she will be able to amply provide for little Andrea and Antonio. Sandra purposes, with heart-wrenching hope, to return to Trinidad soon, yet within a short space of time, her illusions about America as the land of plenty are swiftly shattered. When, she wonders with no small amount of despair, will she be able to hold her children again?

Forced to navigate an existence without the guiding hands of either father or mother, Andrea and Antonio’s fates are steered by their own dubious personal choices. As they progressively lose confidence in the prospect of Sandra’s swift return, they reach out to different sources of solace and diversion to ease the ache. Will Sandra’s children find the comfort and guidance they so urgently seek, or will they, as so many other reluctantly jettisoned relatives of immigrants before them, be forced to make their own way alone, for better or worse?

Delivered in simple yet piercingly effective prose, Is America She Gone? features a cast of characters we recognize all too well. They are people we know, in their thwarted ambitions, their desperate desires to make amends, and the fullness of their longings for a better world.