George Price: A Life Revealed:
The Authorized Biography
Godfrey P Smith
Ian Randle, 2011
One of the reasons that readers shy away from thick biographies is the anxiety that they will be tedious affairs, stuffed with dates and deceased, shadowy figures. The biography of a political leader, furthermore, is usually polished with some attempt to paint the person far larger, and nobler, than they happened to be in real life. “Riveting” and “beautifully presented” are terms that scarcely come to mind when describing biographical study, but they are both apt in categorising George Price: A Life Revealed, winner of the non-fiction category of this year’s OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Written by Godfrey P Smith, former Belizean attorney general and a political figure in his own right, this choice of biographer seems significant, given that George Price lived at the epicentre of Belize’s national identity and continues to occupy the country’s loving esteem. It is somewhat perplexing to consider that there have been no previous biographies of George Cadle Price, the first prime minister of Belize, and that nation’s chief engineer towards independence. Perhaps the prospect of documenting a life so studded with achievements, while simultaneously marked by contradictions, was too daunting to consider. Smith’s research is meticulous, his descriptions clear-eyed and delivered in immensely readable style.
The reader is introduced to Price not merely from his birth, but from details of his ancestry, accounts of his family home on Pickstock Street in Belize City, his religious vocation and training as a diocesan priest, his apprenticeship beneath the self-made multimillionaire, Robert Sidney Turton. The impression gleaned is not of a man born with political aspirations, but of someone impelled by necessity and the call of service to be all that he could for his country and its citizens. Contrary to the untarnished portrait one might expect, Smith diligently ascribes to Price the shortcomings that were Price’s. An imperfect leader, Price’s asceticism often masked an almost intolerable close-guardedness. Smith describes the inaugural prime minister as “a populist politician, beloved of the people yet a reclusive figure at day’s end, who avoided all social activities.” This reputation for secrecy, and for being “intolerant of opposing views”, would cling to Price for as long as he lived, yet it did not hamper the work to which he committed himself: the establishment of Belize as an independent nation, free of colonial ties.
As an authorised biography, Smith’s insights are peppered with snippets of his conversations with George Price, and throughout the text, wry or matter of fact quotations appear from the man himself. Both the prologue and epilogue of the book are surprisingly tender, focusing on Price’s twilight years, taking stock of the former political giant as he, in turn, reflects on the fullness of his own life. Despite censure from the British Honduran government, Opposition factions, and his considerable other detractors, Price strove to live without regret. The benefit of his voice in the biography is a grounding one: it reassures the reader that Price is far from an abstract ideal, but a once-living, breathing entity. Admired deeply by authors, priests, presidents and everyday people, Price is described glowingly by one of his favourite writers, Graham Greene, who maintains that “…history will be kind to him for the principles of honesty and integrity that he adhered to throughout his long and distinguished political career.”
If you prefer your biographers to loom over their subject matter imperiously, inserting their opinions on every other line, prepare to be disappointed in the best way. That Godfrey P Smith is capable of fine writing is evident; it is a testament to his skill that the persona echoing loudest through the lines is Price’s, not his. In telling Price’s story, he remarkably casts the reader through Belize’s history, her road to independence, marked by all its accompanying disasters and triumphs. These are among the most important of examinations, not solely for Belizean nationals, but for all those interested in nation-building and the intricate challenges it represents. Price himself, in both action and intention, captured and embodied the essence of that struggle on a daily basis. Smith holds this titan up to the light of scrutiny, rendering him as he truly was, a man both complex and simple, the premier flag-bearer of an independent Belize.