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.

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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.

Uncle Brother by Barbara Lalla

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Eleven’s selection is a novel steeped in Indo-Caribbean cultural ancestries, mingling with the persistent, often dangerous elements of life in the technologically-edged Trinidadian urban environment: Barbara Lalla’s Uncle Brother.

Lalla’s newest work is rich with multiple perspectives, conveying a sense of history that’s begun to evanesce in our collective consciousness. Tracing vital lines of Indo-Trinidadian tales of origin, immigration and cultural coalescing, Uncle Brother spans generations, including conflicts both domestic and civic. The author’s scholarship as an eminent linguist stabilizes and seeps into these interlocking segments of duty and devotion: each chapter evidences language’s careful, polished use to create deeply enduring meaning. 

Uncle Brother himself is unflagging as the story’s larger-than-life, yet eminently believable hero, one for whom family connotes ultimate sacrifice and endeavour. Marble-pitching; kite flying; jaunts to fishing ponds; meetings in village centres and rumshop brawls: these signposts of both childhood and adult living fill Uncle Brother’s pages with a fidelity of remembrance that navigates away from nostalgia, and towards something much more potent: the transcription of authentic experiences, of an entire fading way of life.

While it is a powerful meditation on community life, Lalla’s novel simultaneously tackles the inward struggles of a man who wrestles his own personal demons along with his self-imposed obligations to be a beacon to kith and kin. The author illustrates with poignancy the effects these interior wars have on an aging patriarch:

“I forced myself to look out through the car window as we hummed through Port of Spain. You are eighty-two but made of old iron. I caught the eye of a well-dressed young man with a rasta hairstyle tied back with a thin black ribbon, and he nodded with a smile of utmost gentleness to the old man I had become. When did this happen?”

We sojourn far beyond the lighthouse in this contemplation of what home means: the forest beckons to us, as does the pulse of everyday rural living in parts of Trinidad whose place-names many have lost the facility to pronounce.

We recommend it for: those seeking to round out their collection of Barbara Lalla’s fiction titles; readers of Lakshmi Persaud and Merle Hodge; seekers of the historical Indo-Trinidadian experience, rendered in thoughtful fiction.

We Kind ah People by Ray Funk

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Blurb, 2014.

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Revellers and rambunctious fêters, those who sigh wistfully in remembering what they deem T & T carnival’s golden days, will sound a vuvuzela of delight over our Day Ten selection: Ray Funk’s We Kind ah People, with photography by George Tang.

A presentation on the Carnival bands of Stephen Lee Heung, which spanned an artistic legacy of fifty years, Funk’s text accompanies Tang’s photographs with seamless reportage and faithful commentary. These lovingly shot images, which focus on the evident wonder and merriment on bandgoers’ faces and the spirit within their chipping, swaying bodies, were previously shared exclusively within private and family circles. Their presence in this chronicle of Lee Heung’s innovation and design imagination is in itself a gift, one Funk describes in lavish but never overshadowing detail.

Carlisle Chang’s fantastical inventions; Peter Minshall’s trailblazing magic; Wayne Berkeley’s distinctive flair; the Eustace family’s cadre of lavish thematic concoctions: all the designers beneath Lee Heung’s banner are afforded full-colour spreads of their presentations, sorted by year. Of Minshall’s paradigm-altering 1976 Paradise Lost, Funk quotes Nicholas Laughlin’s awed assessment from Caribbean Beat:

“As the band flowed through the streets and across the Savannah, a grand narrative unfolded. Thousands of onlookers were astounded. Carnival would never be the same.”

All-inclusive in his depiction of five decades of mas production, Funk summons the voices of other Carnival scholars and writers, including Michael Anthony and a then-Trinidad Guardian arts reporter, Derek Walcott. The Carnival annuals of Roy Boyke are also featured, along with a timeline of Lee Heung’s bands, a biographical essay on the mas pioneer, and photo galleries worth hours’ of animated porings, discussions and lively “do you remember whens”. Whether you jumped up beneath the Stephen Lee Heung banner, or are a younger maswoman curious about the origins of T & T Carnival’s spectacle, animation and band history, We Kind ah People is a devoted ode to a time when there were far fewer bikinis, but not an ounce less bacchanal, boldness or bravery in our Carnival Mondays and Tuesdays.

We recommend it for: culture, sociology and theatre scholars, students and researchers; curators of the evolving Carnival experience; Minshall devotees who want to relive, or newly experience the mas maestro’s first festival-revolutionizing triumph.

Ground Level by Jennifer Rahim

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Welcome to the 2015 Paper Based Advent Book Blog! Day Nine is a delight in poetic rumination from a talented voice, one who’s accrued deeper insight in each of her collections, building a legacy in verse that scales the empyrean heights of an interior life: Jennifer Rahim’s Ground Level.

In truth, this latest offering of Rahim’s sees the poetess going to ground, pressing further and further into the cavern of self-inquiry to test the mettle of her own contemplative, powerful verse. Many of the poems in this body of work are direct engagements with T & T’s recent spate of reckless criminality, much of which informed the 2011 State of Emergency. Not every reflection of Rahim’s is dire, however: her poems point out the essential restorative truth of the land and sea we so cavalierly neglect, and the promise of succour close to shoreline and forest hearth.

The balm of the wilderness outside one’s window is not a universal panacea, Rahim’s writing suggests — there is no complete liberation from coups, government cover-ups and terrorisms of the heart, while one walks the earth. Yet, in poems such as “Ground Doves in the Lime Tree”, solace is secure in the canopy of an arboreal home:

“In that light, all the pain
there ever was to bear
seemed no cross to carry –
with the whole tree cooing
and white blossoms offering
the soon-come relief of limes.”

With homages to Miss Miles, Anthony McNeill and Martin Carter, Ground Level is both a warning bell and a church song at vespers: ushering in those who fear the times and trust in the slow, gentle groundswell of all things beneath our human errors.

We recommend it for: Stalwart adherents to Rahim’s poems – it’s doubtful they will find fault with this sovereign new publication; those seeking spirituality without unctuous lip service in their poetry; Grande Riviere beachgoers and dwellers (there’s a sequence of poems in here, just for you.)

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.

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.