Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Friday, 7 September 2007

Links, links, links

-- Geoffrey Philp reminds us that today is the birthday of the late Miss Lou.

-- In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Richard Thompson reviews Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying.

-- In Open Letters, Sam Sacks reviews Junot Díaz's Oscar Wao (thanks to CRB contibutor Garnette Cadogan for pointing this out).

-- And in the New York Times, Holland Cotter writes about the Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata's Jumbie Camp, a project based on her work with the Keylemanjahro moko jumbies in Trinidad. Photographer Stefan Falke gives some more information at his blog.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

"A carnivalesque mix of fantasy and gallows humor"

(Which Caribbean writer has got the most mentions here in the last fortnight? As of this post, it's Naipaul 6, Díaz 4.)

Thanks to CRB contributor Garnette Cadogan for pointing out that the new issue of Bookforum includes a review by Marcela Valdes of Junot Díaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Love is a word that appears in a lot of Díaz’s interviews, but his affection can be scorchingly unsentimental. Drown’s ten stories spotlight issues that the Latino community mostly likes to avoid: namely, its deep veins of homophobia, in fidelity, racism, sexism, and casual verbal abuse. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao adopts a similarly critical stance, but where Drown delivers its assessments with laconic restraint, Wao bellows them out with a carnivalesque mix of fantasy and gallows humor.

Also in this Bookforum: Andy Battaglia on Michael E. Veal's Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae.

"A grave suspicion of poetry"

Naipaul seems to understand something of the value of Walcott’s early poetry, but he reads poetry in the most intriguing way. And it is this approach to reading poetry that I find most intriguing in the work.

Naipaul admits a grave suspicion of poetry. That is generous. He, at one point, admits that there was a time when poetry was a pleasure for him. Then he was reading rhymes by Palgrave-—memorable, witty pieces written, one assumes, for children. Then he was forced to contend with poetry that did not offer the kind of accessibility that he felt was useful. He did not enjoy studying literature and says he was grateful for not having done literature in is sixth form exams because he would have had to read poetry and that would just have been a disaster. He does concede that while at university in England (he read at Oxford, but with splendid Oxford modesty, does not mention this fact in the piece) he was forced to read Shakespeare and Marlowe and he found power in quite simple lines. This he found remarkable. But he does not appear to have developed much of a taste for poetry, and if there is a taste, he does not trust it terribly.

-- Kwame Dawes, responding at the Poetry Foundation blog to Naipaul's essay on Walcott published recently in the UK Guardian.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

In the new issue of Caribbean Beat

The September/October issue of Caribbean Beat is now online--with Rihanna on the cover and the usual mix of features on culture, style, sport, etc. As well as: an article by Caroline Neisha Taylor on the second Caribbean Literary Festival, scheduled for early November in Antigua; a piece by Marissa De Four on A Different Booklist, the Toronto bookshop where Caribbean writers take pride of place; a review by Jeremy Taylor of James Mitchell's memoirs; and a piece by Vaneisa Baksh on C.L.R. James's relationship with Frank Worrell. Oh, and a review of the new jointpop album by CRB contributor Jonathan Ali: "The January Transfer Window is an unqualified triumph."

"They all seem impossible to me"

How has writing this novel differed from writing the short stories in Drown?

I'm probably the worst person to ask that. I don't have any sense other than that writing is extremely difficult for me. People are always asking, "Did it take you so long because writing a novel is really hard?" I'm like, dude, it took me seven years to write one story, one twenty page story. Really? I didn't realize that one was harder than the other, they all seem impossible to me. They both have me through the intestines on their horns, so it's that kind of weird thing like getting gut-shot by a pistol or a rifle. And the process, someone's like "Tell me, which one is worse?" And I'm like [screams]! That's the only way to answer it, I'm usually so busy screaming the fine nuances of loss.

-- Junot Díaz, interviewed by John Zuarino at Bookslut.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

"As if hooked by unseen fishermen"

How can we let a day go by here at Antilles without posting a Naipaul link? Here's another review of A Writer's People, this time by Nicholas Shakespeare in the Telegraph:

In 1970, the New Zealand artist Colin McCahon wrote to a friend: "I have the awful problem now of being a better person before I can paint better."

When one wonders at his achievement (to borrow his phrase), it is tempting to ask this question of V.S. Naipaul.

Would he be a better writer if he were, so to speak, an even better person?

This book’s cover photograph shows a mouth downturned at the corners, as if hooked by unseen fishermen.

Kakutani times two

The fearless and energetic Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times manages to review not one but two new Caribbean books in today's edition. First, Junot Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao:

... a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets Star Trek meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West. It is funny, street-smart and keenly observed, and it unfolds from a comic portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek into a harrowing meditation on public and private history and the burdens of familial history.

Next, Edwidge Danticat's memoir of her father and uncle, Brother, I'm Dying:

Danticat not only creates an indelible portrait of her two fathers, her dad and her uncle, but in telling their stories, she gives the reader an intimate sense of the personal consequences of the Haitian diaspora: its impact on parents and children, brothers and sisters, those who stay and those who leave to begin a new life abroad. She has written a fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love, and how that love can survive distance and separation, loss and abandonment and somehow endure, undented and robust.

Monday, 3 September 2007

"We have had no Morgan or Port Royal"

CRB contributor Jonathan Ali (whose review of the new Kwame Dawes novel appears in the August issue), poking around in some online archive, has made an entertaining discovery:

"Oh dear, this really is the year of Naipaul," remarked the CRB's editor, after yet another link to an article on Sir Vidia, whose new book, A Writer's People, is published this week.

Well, I thought we'd go one step further and make it the year of the Naipauls, plural. While doing a bit of online research I stumbled across this--a prize-winning essay by VSN's younger, now-deceased brother Shiva, author of, among other books, the fine novels Fireflies and The Chip-Chip Gatherers.

Entitled "My Trinidad", the essay was written for a contest organised by the Trinidad Guardian--for which Vidia and Shiva's father, Seepersad, had been a reporter--on the occasion of the nation's independence, when Shiva would have been around 18 years old, and about to head to Oxford University (to read Chinese, I believe).

Lest the reader infer that the Naipaul family connection to the Guardian played a part in Shiva copping first prize, the lead-in to the essay assures us that the judging was done by the Ministry of Education.

-- JA

[Ed.'s note: isn't it slightly delicious to think that Naipaul minor's Trinidad essay appeared around the same time as Naipaul major's controversial book The Middle Passage? And can you see some glimmers of similarity? "Our history has been a comparatively minor affair."]

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Links, links, links

- Another review of the new Naipaul--this time, by Chandrahas Choudhury in the UK Observer:

Naipaul's operative idea through the book is not so much prose style as what he calls 'vision'. For him, how well a writer 'sees' is what makes his work forceful, ageless, truthful. Those who see clearly bring to their work some original perception of the world, do not merely imitate established forms, treasure precision, avoid rhetoric. Bad writers are verbose and tend to over-explain; even worse, they are often intellectually dishonest.

- Also in the Observer, fifty "celebrated" writers each name a much-loved and underrated book that deserves to be better known (part one, part two). Ali Smith's choice? No Pain Like This Body, by the Trinidadian writer Harold Sonny Ladoo:

Ladoo writes with the power of Faulkner, but stripped of all dandification. A fable about the death of innocence and the workings of poverty, it's as rich as fiction can be.

- In the Jamaica Gleaner arts section, poet Ishion Hutchinson remembers his sixth form English literature teacher, Maxwell Coore. "We bonded over Shakespeare...."

- Also in the Gleaner, Anthea McGibbon reports on the work of the four artists in the Super Plus Under-40 Artist of the Year competition: Paula Daley, Cleve Bowen, Oya Tyehimba Kujichaguila, and Kereine Chang-Fatt.

- The Stabroek News carries a second instalment of the Guyana Prize for Literature judges' report. (Part one appeared in last Sunday's Stabroek.)

- And in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlin Romano reviews Junot Díaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and finds that "despite too many badly written passages and a hodgepodge of repetitive riffs on teenage sexuality, Caribbean exoticism, and 'character is fate' ... if you stick with it to the end, it touches you."