Leaving by Plane Swimming back Underwater by Lawrence Scott

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Eight of our handpicked selections is a gem — a compact companion of short fiction that’s immense in the crafting of its interior worlds, full of light, memory and music, orchestrated by a master hand: Lawrence Scott’s Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater.

Such is Lawrence Scott’s craftsmanship in his newest collection that you might mistake it for sleight of hand – but make no mistake, the symmetry and ineffable majesty in these short stories is real, and so immediate as to be tangible. Whether tackling the shadowy past of Trinidad’s colonial spectres, or lambasting church and state alike in side-slapping picong, doused and flavoured liberally with satirical flourishes, Leaving by Plane Swimming back Underwater is a treasury of experience, musing on faith and its absence with equalizing strokes of conviction. Whether you’re agnostic or avowedly spiritual, you’ll want to hearken to the confessional and shrine of the vistas Scott so lovingly fashions.

These stories pay attention to Trinidad’s natural splendour, and to the wider beauty of the Caribbean archipelagic chain. Even when human monstrosity threatens the security of personal and national cares, nature persists. The many men, women and children in Scott’s resplendent yet rooted prose cling to nature for succour, asking of the landscape, the rolling hills and vast seas greater questions than there are ready answers. In the concluding lines of “A Dog is Buried”, the protagonist hurls a desperate plea to the ocean depths, and receives a chilling, ancient response:

” ‘What? What did she promise them?’ I shouted above the breakers on the black rocks. The answer was the repeated boom of the sea with its long memory of raping, killing and burying, the blood from the gutted fish staining the rocks.”

Penitents and preachers, lonely urchins and lost souls: all manner and make of voices converge on these pages that are a skilfully woven tapestry of past and present, guilt and comfort, desolation and divine grace.

We recommend it for: those seeking to round out their Lawrence Scott collections, eager for his latest since Light Falling on Bamboo; readers of Oonya Kempadoo, Anton Nimblett and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw; literature lovers who appreciate elegant prose marriages of the sacred and the secular.

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The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Seven’s pick elegantly and masterfully swoops in, especially for lovers of classic literature rekindled in contemporary contexts: Caryl Phillips’ The Lost Child.

It’s an herculean task, mapping the complicated, indistinct portrait of the famous antihero Heathcliff, made broodingly remarkable in Emily Brontë‘s Victorian classic, Wuthering Heights. Where did Heathcliff come from? Of what were his dubious origins, and what matter of events shaped him into the moor-wandering man, bleak lover and passionately haunted figure who reigns powerfully in libraries everywhere? Phillips’ supple, unsentimental prose concerns itself with Heathcliff, bordering the novel with scenes from that character’s nascent journeys and imaginings.

This is no mere rewriting of Wuthering Heights, however: the author weaves Heathcliff’s narrative into the larger concerns of Monica Johnson, a twentieth century mother to two sons who finds herself, through a series of increasingly more dire events, at the ends of her endurance and capacity to thrive — both as caregiver for her children, and ultimately for herself. The Lost Child inhabits Yorkshire moors with no less grim significance than did Brontë‘s opus, and in a scene featuring a certain one-time authoress of ill health herself, that savage hinterland still beckons:

“She can see now that the morning light is already fading and the afternoon is preparing to set in misty and cold. Beyond the swaying tree, beyond the church, are the wild moors that call to her to rise from this confinement and race purposefully into the December wind and observe the landscape in its winter colours. I must go. Let me go.

Strategically juggling time periods, speakers and situations, Caryl Phillips shows how the orchestration of personal hungers leads refugees, stranded children, and starved minds to both bleak and beguiling ends. Less a morality tale and more of a musing on homelessness, exiles and the cruel poetry of the void, The Lost Child is staggeringly beautiful writing on several grief-stricken lives.

We recommend it for: lovers of Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ classic Caribbean response to Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre; anyone who’s been drawn to the difficult mystery of Heathcliff; readers of Hanif Kureishi and Salman Rushdie.

The Strange Years of My Life by Nicholas Laughlin

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Six is a collection of poems that many Caribbean poets themselves have been hungrily awaiting, dreaming of devouring line after curious, compact, clever line: Nicholas Laughlin’s The Strange Years of My Life.

It is a challenge to say that most poems confront the act and art of living in truly original ways. Even if you’re wary of calling any creative body of work ‘original’, you will find a series of perspectives in Laughlin’s poems that contradict the staid perches from which you’ve been reading other books of verse. Imaginative and melancholic, bleakly witty and almost jocularly despairing, these poems are neither one thing nor another: you could accuse them of being tricksters, strange bedfellows and ominous calling cards, and you’d be right on all counts. What this makes for is a series of destinations that channel any adventurer’s senses of longing and wanderlust: in The Strange Years of My Life, the reader travels far, from fraught border crossings to breath-defying tower ascents — from lands requiring multiple vaccinations, to cafés where no one knows your name.

Though some of these harbours are by turns startling and laced with beautifully-rendered disorientation, Laughlin writes deeper into hurts and cares that are universal. Witness his achingly plotted unfurling of a damaged interpersonal desire, in “Enough is Enough”:

“I am waiting on your letter.
When it comes I will read it like it is written on your skin,
like it is written on a crust of bread.”

Treachery, heartbreak, discovery and ruin: these things are constant signposts, no matter your country of origin. No matter how far The Strange Years of My Life roams, it returns in every poetic movement to cut bone-deep into the reasons why anyone bleeds, curses or runs very far.

We recommend it for: those who thrill to the poems of Andre Bagoo, Anne Carson and Vahni Capildeo; constant travellers in need of a permanent verse-voyager; fans of lists, letters and loopholes in poetry.

The Ten Days Executive by Rhoda Bharath

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Five’s pick is one of the four titles launched at this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest: a powerful eye-opener in short fiction for those (Trini and otherwise) who shy away from headline news and the true-life horror stories that grow close to home: Rhoda Bharath’s The Ten Days Executive.

Many a man, woman and politician has been felled by pride, puncheon and party-card mentality: at the intersection of these three bacchanals, these short stories shine with an unapologetic savvy knowingness of T & T space. Sallying forth with a lioness’ share of narrative gumption, Bharath’s fiction debut focuses on sharks in suits, smart people made stupid by lyrics, stalwart youthmen facing down the barrel of society’s prejudice, amid many other tales worth telling. In a land where most are for sale, these stories ask their readers to face up to the prices we exact in the name of love and liberty.

What resonates most about Bharath’s fiction is that it’s never cut too distantly from the fabric of reality: the fodder for these (a)morality tales could have been plausibly culled from Express and Guardian headlines, developed to detail those whose lives act as collateral damage for high-stakes fancies and under-the-table dealings. Rather than each story being  reduced as a “political” examination, The Ten Days Executive shows how politics infuses the ground-structure of personal lives: that politics means more than merely PNM vs UNC: it’s in skintone hue; Convent accent or lack thereof; Carnival wildness; police brutality, and all the ways citizens survive in our rainbow islands. These colours, proudly touted in Benetton ads as signs of unity, often carry darker portents, as the author shows in “Breast Pocket”, detailing a dangerous relationship which is no rarity:

“Because he skin red, he used to tell me all kinda thing, like how my skin so black and I should paint my skin white so that at least when we have outage he could see where my black ass hiding. If that was really the case I woulda wish for power outage all the time, because then he woulda never see me.”

You might not be able to trust everything you read in the newspapers, but you can trust in the honest, relentless heart of Rhoda Bharath’s fiction — no short story collection is less likely to lead you astray.

We recommend it for: lovers of Earl Lovelace’s Is Just a Movie; those who prefer their satire sharp and well-moulded, with a contemporary cache of references; sociopolitical pundits, bloggers and media mavens.

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.

Burn by Andre Bagoo

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Three ushers in our first poetry selection in our #paperbasedadvent lineup: Burn, a stunning, intricate and deftly composed sophomore collection from Andre Bagoo, launched at this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest. An eminently worthy successor to Bagoo’s first book of poems, Trick Vessels, Burn is described by Puerto Rican poet Loretta Collins Klobah as “carnivalesque, enigmatic, experimental, vivid, wild and wonder-inspiring poems full of verve and utterly fresh language.”

Trinidad is both paradise and peculiar playground, in this bold and inventive book that bares human curiosity to the cleansing influence of fire. The poems within question both reader and subject, whether they linger over lost loves, look backwards with the slanted gait of douens, or raze Ramleela effigies back to their base origins.

Here is a collection in which everything is considered: still life; shocks to the human system; the hidden lives and adventures unfurling along Port of Spain streets that commuters cross carelessly. There’s at least one world beneath the bitumen of the one we walk over now; Bagoo’s skill is in making us consider our footsteps and what lies under them, in verses that encourage curiosity, channel hunger and sometimes playfully duke it out with our worst enemies, our best friends. The watchful promise of poems like “Yet Again” compel the reader’s gaze and imagination ever closer to new horizons:

”     Take me to your country.
Make me the independence of this land.
Down the path of fireworks,
Wile me with your hand.
Yet again, your hand.”

As with the poet’s debut, Burn opens itself eagerly to mapping and remapping, transversing seas towards Iceland, tilting on its own clever rotational axis to let new meanings encircle the worlds within it.

We recommend it for: Readers of Nicholas Laughlin and Vahni Capildeo; those who like their poems to be both playful and experimental; fans of W.H. Auden who’d like to consider him through an inventive, fascinating lens.

The Whale House by Sharon Millar

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Two’s selection brings us one of Peepal Tree Press’ outstanding debut short fiction collections of this year, launched at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, and since fêted to significant critical acclaim: Sharon Millar’s The Whale House.

If Sharon Millar were a markswoman, you get the impression she would keep her hands steady, her aim unerring, and her powder dry: that’s how the stories in The Whale House hold themselves up on the page. An unsentimental dismantling of complex constructs is Millar’s forte: here, she tackles grief and decay in both the human and natural environment, suggesting that we’re more like the beasts we hunt than we’d like to believe.

The author doesn’t villify or exalt any of her characters in absolute terms: instead, she shows them set in stark, often brutal relief against scenes of stunning beauty and inevitable decay. She tackles a mother’s heartrending resignation to a deep-rooted illness; another mother grappling with rage and fear, learning of her child’s murder; a master cockfighter who prizes both his champion roosters and his mysterious, witching woman: this is a Trinidad at once familiar and seductive in its insights, in its capacity to make new alcoves out of everyday destinations.

The whole is woven with an awareness of the environment, of its capacity to cradle and destroy, that grounds this collection with certainty as ancient as bedrock, as beautiful as a waterfall’s cascade. As the principal figure of the final story, “Spelunking”, remarks:

“The forest has no time for town shenanigans like flashy planes or making the village my own exotic backdrop. The forest has an instinct for this type of behaviour, even if you hide it from yourself.”

You might come to the book for Millar’s Commonwealth prizewinning story, which is the work’s titular piece, but you’ll stay for the whole, astonishingly well-knit ecosystem.

We recommend it for: field naturalists with an affinity for poetry in their scientific research; readers of Alice Munro and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw; fans of well-plotted stories marked by sensually replete language and symbolism.