Sailor Dance by Eleanor Joye Donaldson

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Twenty’s selection soars with the tribute song of a deeply lived, culturally ingrained life of a quintessentially Trinidadian son of the soil, recounted faithfully and with fond, insightful accuracy by his daughter: Sailor Dance: John Stanley Donaldson – The Story, by Eleanor Joye Donaldson.

It has always been easy enough to play party card politics, yet even in the zenith of his service to the People’s National Movement, John Donaldson distinguished himself in his inclusive calls for service to country. This was one of the qualities for which the multiply-laurelled diplomat and former government minister most made his name known: in the consistent application of selfless integrity to his portfolio of achievements. A formidable athlete; prominent statesman; and perhaps most touchingly, a man whose committment to his family life is handsomely detailed in this biography, Donaldson epitomized an existence of patriotic, passionate investment.

These truths of one man’s extraordinary accomplishments and tenderly domestic particulars are brought lovingly to life in Eleanor Joye Donaldson’s uncluttered, affectionate writing style. With equal parts clarity and clear-eyed reminiscence, the daughter reflects on her father’s humble beginnings, tracing a trajectory that is every inch an upwardly mobile success story.

We recommend it for: readers of Reginald Dumas’ The First Thirty Years and Anthony Sabga’s A Will and A Way; biography aficionados who like civically-grounded and culturally accomplished subjects; longtime PNM adherents interested in delving deeper into the origins and successes of one of its historically key figureheads.


The First Thirty Years by Reginald Dumas

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Reginald Dumas, 2015.

Reginald Dumas, 2015.

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Fifteen brings us an autobiography with a singularly lived life at its focus — a life which, through the keen and assiduous sharing of its first significant stages, offers its readers platforms to better governance, smarter reforms, and clearer ways to realize our vast civic and individual potential: Reginald Dumas’ The First Thirty Years.

Proving that good diplomacy and policymaking involve far more than an endless series of handshakes and summit convenings, the author takes us through his postings, and the range of his professional duties right up until age 30, where he departs for Ethiopia to establish the Addis Ababa T & T Embassy.

Sharing candidly and with calm reflection on his boyhood beginnings in Chaguanas, Dumas shows the reader not only the ambit of his family hearth, but the socioeconomic structure of the times that cradled and fostered his development. He treats every segment of his retrospective in this manner, so that early QRC musings are also illustrations of a bygone mode of public transit:

“The train was the popular means of transport — in that colonial period they usually ran on time — and the journey each way, with stops, took about one hour. My mother felt that two hours of train travel each day, plus travel from the Port of Spain railway station to the college and back, would adversely affect my academic performance. And nothing, if she could help it, was to be allowed to stand in the way of that.”

Whether ruminating on the thwarted potential of the West Indian Federation ideal, or sharing from the trove of his experiences in the diplomatic service, Dumas defines through experiential example, not lofty posturing, what it means to be of good use — to one’s country, to one’s family, to one’s own personal litmus tests of what integrity and its best practice constitutes.

We recommend it for: prospective or serving diplomats, ambassadors and stateswomen and men everywhere; holders of public and private office who are keen on reading true leadership stories; readers of Ian McDonald and Lloyd Best’s columns.

Tobago Peeps by Elspeth Duncan

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Elspeth Duncan, 2015.

Elspeth Duncan, 2015.

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Thirteen’s selection brings us sweetly contemplative swathes of everyday living from the sister isle, proof that Tobago has always been leagues more than Trinidad’s touristic sibling sidekick: Elspeth Duncan’s Tobago Peeps.

A collection of Duncan’s columns on living in Tobago, originally published in the Trinidad Guardian, these pieces have at their core a steadily reflective heart. The author, who wears many creative hats — also working as a Kundalini yoga teacher and boutique restaurateur of Table for Two, Made For You — distinguishes herself from a herd of lukewarm, generic presenters, who offer vapid portraits on Tobago as an “idyllic paradise”. There is much that is sublime and magnificent about the island, her people and their particularities: the strength of these assembled columns is that they view the space and its inhabitants from an embracing and inclusive perspective.

Whether ruminating on the inquisitive jaunts of her rehabilitated canine companion, Venus, or sharing the first-hand thoughts of Tobagonians on life, love and the Mystery Tombstone, the centre of each column basks in a generous, good-spirited light. In her “Peace and Love” discourse, Duncan shares the spirit of a timeless message in patience, showing how it resonates not just with her, but with her Kundalini yoga class at Castara Retreats:

“Now with this pebble returning to me full circle, I am reminded of the message that if you let love go and it comes back, it’s yours. I look around the class, sensing that each person has established a meaningful connection with his or her trinket. I don’t ask what their symbolic associations are, but I make my own for each: hope, blessings, insight, luck, more luck, guidance, fulfillment, release.”

From rescued roadside birds reposing peacefully in Heineken boxes, to empowering and rib-tickling anthems printed across the windscreens of idling gas station cars, the vision in Tobago Peeps is of a steady, connected gaze — one that sees smiling dogs, sage rastamen and seven-ingredient health juices in all their limitless, love-strewn potential.

We recommend it for: fans of Elspeth’s short story collection, Daisy Chain, who’re eager to sample her nonfiction style; those seeking a uniquely charming read for their next Store Bay stroll; anyone interested in Tobago’s richness and depth, beyond the brochure signposts.

The Daly Commentaries by Martin Daly

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Martin Daly, 2015.

Martin Daly, 2015.

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Twelve’s selection brings us a freshly-published journalistic assemblage: thirteen years’ worth of newspaper columns from a source who’s never short on insight, fair-mindedness and witty perspicacity: Martin Daly’s The Daly Commentaries.

Daly’s professional chops are a matter of public record — as a Senior Counsel; former independent senator; former Law Association president and head of a prestigious law firm, his CV doesn’t exactly position him as part of the proletariat posse. Yet, as well over a decade’s worth of columns attest, Daly’s focus has long been precisely centred on the plights, successes and sorrows — judicial and otherwise — of working class Trinidadians and Tobagonians. No one could fault these newspaper discourses for not being well-written, by turns charming, inspiring and keenly critical of society’s ills: they are abundantly all these things. Perhaps their greatest achievement is that they are consistent in their outreach — Daly maintains a warm, direct relationship with his readers, and the core of so many of his pieces are direct responses to queries, entreaties and suggestions from his Trinidad Express followers.

Whether answering matters of legal inquiry, or passionately waxing eloquent on the mellifluous majesty of steelpan music, Daly’s language is clear, earnest and truth-seeking. Pulling no punches on citizenry and politicians’ civic duties, he says, “It is important to set examples by respecting the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.” With equal vigour, he happily shares with his readers that his enthusiasm for writing about pan is boundless. Crediting both lawmaking and artistic institutions alike for the importance of the values they uphold and instill, The Daly Commentaries calls out charlatans and hucksters; rails against injustices never set right, and pauses to smell the flowers in the Botanical Gardens of this complicated but constantly rewarding place we call ours. His columns frequently reaffirm faith that T & T is worth fighting for, whether it means standing up against injustices in the street or in highest office.

We recommend it for: longtime Martin Daly readers who’ll thrill to the reality of a portable omnibus; admirers of Dana Seetahal’s columns; devotees of both grit and grace in journalistic coverage of current events.

Out of the Doubles Kitchen by Badru Deen

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Caritrade Inc., 2013.

Caritrade Inc., 2013.

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Four brings us a singular nonfiction accomplishment: a memoir of the first family of doubles in Trinidad and Tobago, penned by a hardworking scion of that clan: Badru Deen’s Out of the Doubles Kitchen.

This nation’s tastiest and most-sought-after roadside snack (indeed, many would call it a culinary staple!) is rarely thought of in terms of its possible provenance. In his emotionally forthright family memoir, Badru Deen, son of the nation’s first doublesman, sets the record straight: his was the clan to lay claim to the precise marriage of channa and barra that would put T & T on the global food map. Deen’s struggle with the latent shame of issuing from a doubles heritage shows the evolution of the doubles brand: out from a woodsmoke-hot kitchen of penury, to a world in which few street-vendored ambrosias have been so eagerly fêted.

The author recollects his family’s numerous struggles, sharing open-heartedly from a personal catalogue of losses, conflicts and secrets. Not only does he draw a curtain aside, illuminating the private lives of those who toiled to make doubles a financial success and a decent livelihood — he draws references to the upwardly mobile status of Indo-Caribbean workers and citizens in Trinbagonian society. Examining the roles of proselytizing Christianity, the sugar estates and indentured labour, as well as the initial stigma attached to this now-ubiquitous street corner repast, Deen reflects on the gentle irony of his life’s attachment to his family’s food:

“Even though I did not sell Doubles to earn a living like my father, his desire to have all of his sons involved in the Doubles business was fulfilled in my case, when I sold hundreds of tons of channa through my export business. In fact, volume-wise, I sold more channa than my father sold in his forty-three years of promoting Deen’s Doubles.”

Liberally spiced and seasoned by the hard work of his parents, and the resolutions of his own life, Badru Deen’s memoir of doubles is an ideal palate-enricher, right after you’ve downed an open-palmed treat with extra chadon beni, in front of your favourite Curepe vendor.

We recommend it for: anyone chomping at the bit to learn the real deal behind the cry for “two with slight”; food critics and columnists; archivists of the East Indian experience in Trinidad.

Writing Down the Vision by Kei Miller

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Kei Miller‘s impressive repertoire in writing shows that he can make bold strides in both fiction and poetry: he’s got three published books in each of those genres. His newest book of poems, The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion, is set to hit bookstores in May this year. In this, his first book of essays, Miller’s wit, humour and discernment don’t vanish with the switch to non-fiction. On the contrary, Writing Down the Vision brings so many tributaries of thought to bear on the page that what emerges is an eighteen essay powerhouse.

Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2013, the collection has been longlisted for the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. The essays are workhorses in service of numerous purposes. In them, Miller demarcates the rise and fall of dub poetry (“A Smaller Sound, a Lesser Fury – A Eulogy For Dub Poetry”), laments the uncertain fates of same-gender lovers in Jamaica (“A Smaller Song”, which also functions as a letter of kinship to Thomas Glave) and hearkens to the writer’s religious fervour and disenchantment (“Riffing of Religion”).

Through each of the work’s essays, written in different years, countries and for audiences separated by geography and circumstance, the collection’s constant hallmark is that it is never, ever boring. Miller’s prose is by turns energetic, whimsical, elegiac and brave, but it steers clear of dry academic treatments and lethargic speculations. These are essays against which you can check your own biases, intellectual quarrels and best-laid opinions; everything Miller writes serves to propel the conversation forward, not to claim it as his sole province.

One might assert that a lifetime’s experience resides in Writing Down the Vision, or several commingled experiences over any number of lives. The essays reflect this multivalency, offering the reader glimpses (and long gazes) of Jamaica; the Caribbean, and the world around us.

A Rada Community in Trinidad by Andrew Carr

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


Certain books exist as unfading snapshots of Trinidad and Tobago’s yesteryear, presenting historical and social structures as they were, without the gloss of nostalgia. We’re thrilled to have recently restocked some original copies of one such book: Andrew Carr’s A Rada Community in Trinidad. Issued by Paria Publishing in 1989, the work documents Carr’s research and findings, during time spent with the Antoine family, at their Belmont Valley compound. Carr’s documentation principally takes the form of well-structured, factual narrative, and the text is favourably augmented with some pictoral data. (Most stunning among these is the author’s full-colour sketch of the Rada Compound, indicating the positions of buildings, shrines and a private cemetery.)

Belmont’s Rada community is still in existence — online forays are useful in learning more about the close-knit familial civilization’s customs. Carr’s work, originally published in 1955, is a blueprint denoting some of the earliest, formally-recorded insights into Rada compound life. The book is subdivided into categories on the settlement’s geographical layout; Rada religion; ceremonies; musical instruments; dancers and other elements that are certain to captivate the interest of historians and anthropologists.

Steering clear of a sentimental treatment, A Rada Community in Trinidad showcases Carr’s sensitive interpretation of his findings, highlighting the late cultural icon’s concerns for the compound’s sustainability. “No longer does the Elegba shrine exist as earth mound and effigy,” Carr writes. “The impact of western ideas, and misunderstandings by a growing population alien to African customs have been responsible for its disappearance.”

The book contains two forewords, one by the author’s daughter, Joslynne Carr Sealey, the other by Paria Publishing chairman, Gerard Besson, who opines that the Rada “as they have existed in Trinidad have contributed significantly to our overall character and heritage.” Every estimation of Carr’s bears this exact conclusion out, in readable and cogent prose, making A Rada Community in Trinidad indispensable to the library of any local historian or cultural researcher.

Among the Bloodpeople by Thomas Glave

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Akashic Books, 2013.

In his introduction to this new book of essays, Pulitzer prizewinning poet Yusef Komunyakaa says, “… Glave’s voice resonates in the plucked string holding each sentence together, an echo of James Baldwin and Jean Genet; his language carries the full freight of witness.” You might choose to describe the prevailing quality that drives this collection as “fearless”. It’s even more telling to consider that Glave operates boldly in the interests of the stigmatized and disenfranchised, despite potential fear of reprisals.

Glave, whose previous works include the anthology Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Gay and Lesbian Writing from the Antilles (2008), is unshy on the page, regarding the bloody tide of anti-gay sentiment that so typifies popular Jamaican culture. He vigorously decries not just the dancehall culture, but the (in)actions of “the bloodpeople” themselves: fellow Jamaican and Caribbean peoples, of shared genealogy and social circumstance. All of this surfaces in Glave’s first essay of the collection: “This Jamaican Family: The Word, and Dreams.”

Several of the collection’s essays smartly dismantle easy preconceptions about LGBT-culture consumption in the Caribbean; about the realities of what it means to be “othered” on the fronts of colour; of geographical roots; of sexual orientation. Other essays excavate family histories with equal parts nostalgia and a kind of regretful optimism. In “The Bloodpeople in Language,” Glave situates himself in the third person. Musing on his deceased sister, he is “…sundered and surprised that, on particular mornings and afternoons and evenings on the green island of his people’s origin and history, he finds himself listening […] for the sound of her in the language.”

A sensitive, sharp set of intelligences — intellectual, to be sure, but prevailingly emotional, too — reside in the makeup of these essays. Whether Glave is musing on his original founder’s role in Jamaica’s J-FLAG, providing a frank, poetic meditation on “barebacking”, or paying homage to his chief literary influences, these pieces are moulded in resistance, bolstered by history, suffused in poetry: each of them is a delight.

Our Book Club Pick: Wishing for Wings by Debbie Jacob

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Published by Ian Randle, 2013

“Maybe in the past, a long time ago, I was a criminal but not anymore. I’m just a usual individual right now. I’m going to behave myself and go to plays and learn my work. A tiny, little feeling inside of me says I’m more intelligent than I may think so I’m going to utilise that.”

So says Shawn in an eager letter to his CXC English Language teacher, Debbie Jacob — an unlikely instructor for the task of furnishing several young inmates with the inner workings of the English syllabus, according to Jacob herself. Though the journalist, author and librarian retained misgivings about the quality and consistency of her tutelage, she persevered, incorporating stories, essays and subject material outside of the scope of the often-rigid, unimaginative course matter. The personal stories of the boys under her charge, as shared in Wishing for Wings, are a testament to both her determination, and that of her students.

As Jacob reminds the reader multiple times in clear, unornamented prose, the fates of the boys in remand behind the Youth Training Centre’s forbidding walls are seldom thought of in a positive light. The conditions under which they are mandated to live and function are highly questionable, and in these austere circumstances, it seems hardly likely that hope can flourish. Yet, beneath Jacob’s guidance, the young men she teaches gradually emerge from the shells of their necessary armour, sharing more of their secret aspirations and plans for self-betterment.

In a sense, Jacob’s voice in this narrative is kind yet peripheral: she sidelines her own personal tales to repeatedly let the boys’ contributions — in the form of essays; book reviews; dream sequences and letters — shine through. The end result is a frankly unforgettable journey, one which, by its end, will have you considering these remarkable youths as far more than “inmates”. Their futures will gleam with promise, augmented by the power of flight they’ve earned through unremitting work and their longing for brighter horizons.

Given the rich possibilities for both discussion and inspiration that lie in the pages of Wishing for Wings, it’s no wonder that we’re pleased to select it as our official November Book Club Pick! Here are a few reading circle questions to help get you started: please feel free to share additional ones in the comments section.

Discussion Questions for Wishing for Wings:

  • Much has been made of the famous poem that opens the book: “Dreams”, by Langston Hughes. In what ways is the use of this poem as an epigraph especially suitable for these boys’ stories?
  • The first assignment that Debbie gives her YTC charges asks them to select which animal they would most like to be. If pressed with this question, which animal would you choose, and do you think the choice reveals anything in particular about your character?
  • Jacob often expresses dissatisfaction with the course material assigned to CXC English Language, calling them “boring textbooks filled with irrelevant material.” What do you think of her alternative teaching methods, and do you think they would be successful in a conventional classroom setting?
  • Did you find yourself rooting for one boy above all the others? Which of Jacob’s students did you feel the most for, while reading, and if his future was described towards the book’s end, how did his progress (or lack thereof) make you feel?
  • After finishing Wishing for Wings, were any preconceived notions you held about life at the YTC in Arouca destroyed? What recommendations would you make, to have life behind those gates become a healthier environment for the young prisoners there?
  • During the course of the book, Debbie makes loans and gifts of novels and other reading material to her students, in the interest of broadening their appreciation of the world, and its different inhabitants. If you could recommend just one book to an impressionable young person, which would it be, and why would you select it?
  • “English,” Debbie tells her students, “is about learning how to express yourself.” In response, they inform her that English is about life. Which of these perspectives do you agree with more, and if you agree with neither, how do you define the purpose of an education in English?

Previous Book Club Picks:

Between Bodies Lie by H. M. Blanc

What Things Are True by Jackie Hinkson

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Published in 2012, the year in which Jackie Hinkson celebrated his 70th birthday, What Things Are True reflects far more than a book title: it’s the author’s attempt to answer a lifelong question, one to which he knows there may be no swift recourse. Hinkson’s memoir reveals the interiority of some of his most highly generative years in the world of art. The narrative focuses on segments of the artist’s life in chapters that are both beautifully and simply titled (“Dreaming of an Old House”; “A Boy in Cobo Town”; “Autumn Blues In Paris”). Indeed, much of Hinkson’s reflections transmute what is seemingly ordinary — a childhood schoolyard scuffle; a series of ruminations on an old house; a sea voyage to an unfamiliar country — into reflections that are ornate with the weight of memory, coloured in by a mind attuned to perceptions of light, darkness and the countless variations betwixt those two states.

A Paria Publishing Title, What Things Are True has been described by historian Bridget Brereton (in her Trinidad Express review of the book) as containing a “rich social history in Hinkson’s finely written” prose. Brereton draws attention to the author’s numerous pen portraits that intersperse the chapters, adorning written recollections with visual hearkenings to buildings, portraits of family members. These illustrations serve to flesh out and deepen the ways in which the reader appreciates Hinkson’s artistic journeys.

Teeming with myriad reflections of a vanished age; of both the pleasures and perils inherent in the working creative’s existence; of the rewards bestowed by family and the dangerous allure of critical fame, Hinkson’s memoir is, perhaps above all else, the opposite of a full stop. It’s a declaration of intent: a promise of a continued life in the visual arts, marked with as much attentiveness and sensibility as shines through in these pages.