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!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Literary LIFE

John Hearne teaching English history at a private school in Jamaica, March 1958; photo by Grey Villet, from the LIFE archive

Some Antilles readers may have heard the news that Google recently posted the image archive of LIFE magazine online--millions of photos, they say, most never actually published, and now fully searchable here.

Your Antilles blogger decided to poke around a bit and see what kinds of images of the Caribbean might be found in the archive. Lots of tropical landscapes and photos of smiling tourists, inevitably, but some nice surprises also. Such as the photo above, of the Jamaican writer John Hearne (here's another.) A 1994 portrait of V.S. Naipaul. A rotund Albert Gomes politicking in the 1950s. A calypso tent in Trinidad in 1941. Wifredo Lam sitting at his easel in 1946....

If you spot any other good ones, dear readers, tell us in the comments below.

"A literature of place"

The debate over Guyanese (and by extension Caribbean) literary authenticity continues: Ruel Johnson responds to Michael Gilkes via the Living Guyana blog.

A literature of place, even within an increasingly globalised world has to necessarily be anchored, rooted, in that particular place, not elsewhere -- a concrete place of genesis is necessary for memory, nostalgia, reminiscence and most importantly, reengagement....

Thus, for example, eighteen years of social conditioning in Guyana versus a subsequent thirty years of social conditioning in England, much of the latter coinciding with a literary career, would tend to create a writer (of British citizenship) producing a literature that has primarily British concerns, British sensibilities, and a British idiom, with Guyana barely at the periphery. How can we proclaim then that either the writer or his work is Guyanese by any definition, simply because the writer was born here?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Take a drink!

A Naipaul drinking game? Doug Childers, writing in the Richmond Times/Dispatch, has a suggestion for readers of The World Is What It Is:

Enjoy a shot every time somebody in its pages takes a shot at V.S.

First up, the sister-in-law: "When he was young, he was snobbish but he was always joking; later he was just snobbish."

Take a drink!

And what's that the composer Vanraj Bhatia said about him? "He was snobbish, nothing nice to say -- a thoroughly nasty human being."

Knock back another!

And while we're piling on, how about this zinger from a student who suffered through a class Naipaul taught at Wesleyan University: "He was, simply, the worst, most close-minded, inconsiderate, uninteresting and incompetent professor I have ever met."


Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Dwight Garner offers a more, ahm, sober review of Patrick French's biography.


I spent the first 19 years of my life in Guyana. I was born there, went to school there, earned a pay check there, fell in love there, and then ups an left for the United States. I have now lived away from Guyana for a longer time than I lived there. Does that make me an inauthentic Guyanese? And if so, when did I become that?

-- Charmaine Valere at Signifyin' Guyana responds to Michael Gilkes's recent letter to the Stabroek News and Ruel Johnson's Antilles interview, taking on the subject of cultural authenticity.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Walcott/Obama--part three?

The New York Times ran a nifty little story yesterday by Motoko Rich, about the wave of excitement triggered in publishing circles by Barack Obama's mention of a book he's been reading recently--a study of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first hundred days in office. It turns out there are at least three recent books about FDR's first hundred days, and the publishers of all three titles are hoping the Obama "endorsement" will lead to a bump in sales. A spokesman for Farrar, Straus & Giroux even suggests that Obama might be the book world's "new Oprah." Which leads me to wonder whether FSG has also noticed a surge in orders of another of their titles recently spotted tucked under Mr. Obama's arm....

"A mid-level slum..."

Pascal Dorien was living in Bel Air--the Baghdad of Haiti, some people called it, but that would be Cité Pendue, an even more destitute and brutal neighborhood, where hundreds of middle-school children entering a national art contest drew M-16s and beheaded corpses, and wrote such things as “It’s not polite to shoot at funeral processions” and “I’m happy to have turned in my weapons. What about you?” Bel Air was actually a mid-level slum....

-- From "Ghosts", new fiction by Edwidge Danticat in this week's New Yorker.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Meanwhile, in Miami...

Those of us not lucky enough to be at the twenty-fifth anniversary Miami Book Fair International--which ended yesterday--can at least experience a bit of the literary action vicariously, via Geoffrey Philp. From the diary he posts on his blog, it sounds like he had a very busy weekend.... And you can see his photos here, at Flickr. Any other reports from the Miami Book Fair, dear readers?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Book of the week: If I Could Write This in Fire, by Michelle Cliff

We are a fragmented people. My experience as a writer coming from a culture of colonialism, a culture of Black people riven from one another, my struggle to achieve wholeness from fragmentation, while working within fragmentation, producing work which may find its strength in its depiction of fragmentation, through form as well as content, is similar to other writers whose origins are in countries defined by colonialism.

-- From "Journey into Speech", Michelle Cliff's introduction to If I Could Write This in Fire

Michelle Cliff is best known for her fiction--her novels Abeng, No Telephone to Heaven, and Free Enterprise, and her short story collection Bodies of Water. If I Could Write This in Fire is her first collection of non-fiction--and the Antilles book of the week.

From her publisher's website:

In her first book-length collection of nonfiction, Cliff displays the same poetic intensity, interweaving reflections on her life in Jamaica, England, and the United States with a powerful and sustained critique of racism, homophobia, and social injustice. If I Could Write This in Fire begins by tracing her transatlantic journey from Jamaica to England, coalescing around a graceful, elliptical account of her childhood friendship with Zoe, who is dark-skinned and from an impoverished, rural background; the divergent life courses that each is forced to take; and the class and color tensions that shape their lives as adults. The personal is interspersed with fragments of Jamaica’s history and the plight of people of color living both under imperial rule and in contemporary Britain.

You can read an excerpt from If I Could Write This in Fire and a short review here, at the NPR website.