The Sunday Arts Section's Shivanee Ramlochan regularly reviews recent Caribbean books, magazines and journals. These were some noteworthy books that crossed her desk this year.
The Merchant of Feathers
Peepal Tree Press, 2014
"The Merchant of Feathers is that rare collection confident enough in its purpose to make peace with its unevenness, almost as if to declare that life follows this unbridled, messy topography, too–and so why not the poems that life prompts? Shirley's second book is a lush, well-contained triumph, one that both celebrates and admonishes."
Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal
University of the West Indies Press, 2014
"Sentimentality is firmly buttressed by a wealth of footnotes, figures, photographs and other illustrative material. Interspersing visual testimony generously in the body of her text renders the reading a prismatic and engaging experience: this is no tiresome slog through self-congratulatory academic water. Senior essays to do the opposite: to scrape any semblance of hubris clean from the manuscript, and to let the workers themselves do the talking."
House of Ashes
Simon & Shuster, 2014
"This is emotionally-charged fictive reportage, a dizzyingly ambitious treatment that inevitably falls short, but has the assiduous and requisite strength to at least fall well.
In sensitive, brave prose (marked by forays into repetitiveness), Roffey shows the reader that human animals all respond in essentially the same ways, when staring down the steel barrel of their own fear. [....] What it gets undeniably right is our primordial response to terrorism."
Walking with the Ancestors
Angelo Bissessarsingh, 2013
"It's when Bissessarsingh's text delves into the personal that the reading zips along, avoiding the dreaded passive voice treatment. When the historian allows his own colourful, sometimes-unforgiving insertions to pepper his frames of reference, the writing acquires much-needed bursts of life. When he allows himself speculations on the nature of some of the graveyards' dearly departed, the conclusions are often wryly tongue in cheek. Commenting on Archdeacon Samuel LaRoque Richards' alleged embezzlement of Indian labourers' funds, the historian observes that "of course he (Richards) was exonerated, as it would have been bad for the image of colonial whites, had a white Barbadian clergyman been convicted of stealing from coolies."
This is one of the work's subtler merits: it avoids the mounting of hagiographies, despite the devout allure of advice that cautions against speaking ill of the dead."
The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion
Peepal Tree Press, 2013
"As a themed collection, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion works wonders on any literary disposition that's weary of too many recycled, generic poems on odyssey and return. Miller's fourth poetry collection retains ebullience even alongside depictions of great sorrow. You can come to this body of work for paeans to rubber ducks, and for lamentations of the master's lash alike, both rendered with an immaculate sensitivity." (Miller won the �10,000 2014 Forward Prize for this book–ed.)
Carcanet Books, 2013
"Goodison's poems are not immune to the suggestion of miracles to adorn a human life. Steering clear of a nihilistic bent, Oracabessa keeps impressive time to the oldest known songs of the world, those that champion full-heartedness, and the perhaps misleading notion of love as an ultimate redeemer. These poems are filled with good vibrations, and the best among them are unforgettable ballads of beautiful resilience."
The Best of AllPossible Worlds
Del Rey, 2013
"What's remarkable about Lord's oeuvre is that it's near-unmatched: very few Caribbean writers, resident in the Caribbean, commit themselves to the production of speculative fiction. Lord tells stories that are not only fascinating emotionally and anthropologically, but she's doing it in a singular literary field."