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.


Sic Transit Wagon by Barbara Jenkins

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

You would not be far off the mark if you described Barbara Jenkins as the literary darling of this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Her April 28th launch of Sic Transit Wagon, chaired by Funso Aiyejina, was one of the festival’s most enthusiastically crowded events, with Jenkins’ supporters and fans all but spilling from the stuffed seams of the Old Fire Station. Sic Transit Wagon has been written up glowingly by BC Pires, for the Sunday Arts Section of the Trinidad Guardian, where it was described as “a powerful, positive and beautifully written debut.”

The titular story of the collection involves an old, faithful station wagon, one that features as a beloved, steadfast landmark in the author’s life, up until the time it must be released. This reminiscence has bearing on each of the stories in Jenkins’ first collection, which engage with transience, loss and transmutation. Everything is variable; nothing on the page is immune from the vicissitudes of shifting fortunes, of growing children and affairs of the heart on a major to minor scale — reading Barbara Jenkins is a smoothly-modulated primer on how everything in life feeds fiction, and when it’s done well, we don’t chafe and bridle, even when the telling is too much to sit with comfortably.

Here, I think, is what makes reading Jenkins a singular experience – her Life Writing isn’t so linearly about “Life’s Ups and Downs”; these reminiscences and reality-infused fictions are multiple places at once: they’re subsumed in regret just as much as they’re borne aloft by every good feeling. Share these stories with your friends, your relatives, your arch-enemies. Wrap them up and mail them to your long-estranged Someone, living leagues away. The work in Sic Transit Wagon lives; it speaks of a generous worldview coupled with a writing style that is elegant in its restraint. These stories deserve to be read, and reread, until they become part of the life that you yourself are inhabiting.

The Sky’s Wild Noise by Rupert Roopnaraine

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

We’re rounding out our coverage of the exceptional 2013 OCM Bocas Prize shortlist with a tribute to the non-fiction winner: The Sky’s Wild Noise, a collection of essays from veteran politician and social commentator, Rupert Roopnaraine. This title is also the second on the shortlist to have been published by Peepal Tree Press – the other being poetry winner, Kendel Hippolyte’s Fault Lines.

A formidable chronicle of essays marking a lifetime of political service and social activism, Roopnaraine’s entries range from satirical treatments to eyewitness accounts, from critiques of visual arts to testimonies on the lives of great departed comrades and Guyanese luminaries. The Sky’s Wild Noise is a rare, meticulously plotted gift to Caribbean letters, revealing as much about the resilient, doughty composer of these ruminations as it does decades of sociopolitical history. The compendium provides a narrative that is dually relevant to Guyana’s society, as well as to the broader Caribbean spectrum.

Thus concludes our 2013 OCM Bocas Prize shortlist – but stay tuned! As the festival draws ever closer (less than a full week to go now!) we’ll be paying attention to other talented writers on the official festival programme by spotlighting their books. If a particular selection catches your fancy, and you’ll be in Trinidad from the 25th to the 28th of April, don’t hesitate to check the festival out in person! Remember, all the events (with the exception of workshops, for which there is a nominal fee) are free to attend, and who knows? The 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest might well be your favourite bookish event to grace your calendar this year.

Fault Lines by Kendel Hippolyte

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger


Here’s the second in our series of posts on the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize shortlist! Today, we’re peering into the covers of Kendel Hippolyte’s fifth collection, Fault Lines, winner of the category prize for poetry. Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2012, the work further establishes Hippolyte as “perhaps the outstanding Caribbean poet of his generation”, unstinting praise bestowed on him in the Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry.

Marion Bethel, the chair of this year’s Bocas poetry judging panel, describes Fault Lines as “a singular achievement”. Furthermore, the official response from the judging panel indicates the unanimously high praise that St. Lucian poet and dramatist’s work received: “[The collection] demonstrates Hippolyte’s excellent, all-round craftsmanship as a poet. His voice and cadence are unique and distinctive.”

I was no less enthralled — I’ve remarked to anyone who’ll listen that these poems are imbued with the rhythm and sound of the island chain. They speak to, and about, our multiple islanders’ selves with clarity and insight; they document the natural and man-made world, paying close attention to the interstices that are mappable between both. Every  shoreline and schoolchild becomes significant beneath the poet’s gaze; nothing is trivial or commonplace except in our hesitant recriminations of ourselves. Hippolyte writes the human condition both for grandness and for frailty, and the result is poetry that demands to be shared and read aloud, in resonant tones. Thankfully, those both unacquainted and familiar with Hippolyte’s work will have the chance to hear him read from Fault Lines at this year’s festival: a rare and glorious opportunity to hear the lyrical words coming even more vividly to life.