Published by Macmillan Caribbean, 2006
Preserving our literary heritage
Reviewed by Petamber Persaud
February 25, 2007
OFTEN I would get requests to recommend “a good history book” from persons wanting to know more about Guyana. And just as often except in cases of special need I would refocus attention of the inquirers to Guyanese books of fiction and poetry, books that add colour to the cheeks of posterity.
To date all of my suggestions were met with approval. “Caribbean Dispatches” compiled and edited by Jane Bryce which carries an explanatory subtitle, “beyond the tourist dream”, is a book I would recommend to anyone wanting to experience the true spirit of the Caribbean and get taste of Guyana.
There are three pieces of prose directly related to Guyana namely “A Different Sort of Time” by Ian McDonald, “Loving Guyana’s Rivers” by Mark McWatt and “On the Sea Wall” by Denise DeCaires Narain.
Simon Lee made reference to Guyanese Caribs still speaking their ancestral language in “Before Columbus: Travels with the Gli Gli”.
It is a book that not only portrays beauty but shows whence cometh colour and how it is applied, it is a book that “kanse yuh on the hed” with sounds and extends your taste for food, love, life, and a verve for sex, ‘re-tyre’ and retool you for life on any part of the globe.
It is a book portraying the “extraordinary drama” of the Caribbean region where “oxymorons collide”, where “eating is an act of love” and where “small kindnesses are valued”.
The opening gambit of the collection woven in the subtitle, “beyond the tourist dream” and the dedication, “for Tumi – at home in the in-between”, forthwith begin to stretch your imagination and wet your appetite. And you would not be disappointed with its offerings.
“Caribbean Dispatches” will evince urgency in you to experience the Caribbean through consummate personal perspectives written by 28 writers of varying backgrounds, “people of Caribbean origin living abroad but maintaining family links, returnees who have come back after many years away, people from elsewhere who have lived here a long time, long-term frequent visitor…among them are novelists, poets, artists, academics, journalists and broadcasters”.
You will be unable to dismiss the poignant prayer by Ian McDonald, “Please God, if I am born again with the powers of an artist, let me go again to the Essequibo and read the books I love and, this time, paint the wind”.
Of course, you’d want to “enjoy the embrace of the river-water and the tug of the tide or current…and that wonderful smell of the secret life of the river” and the sensual pleasure of mud described by Mark McWatt in “Loving Guyana’s Rivers”.
Despite bumper to bumper and the prevarications of traffic in Kingston, Jamaica, you would endure it like Kim Robinson just for the view from Russell Heights in order to “feel a flood of joy, a surge of optimism after this injection of beauty. I am happy to be alive”.
But the Caribbean is not all about beauty, beaches and sunshine. People also want to experience that something “indefinable called ‘culture’ and are interested in history, art, music and whatever makes the local scene distinctive”.
Lennox Honychurch’s piece, “Territory of the Heart: Jean Rhys’s Dominica”, smoothly juxtaposes past with the present, effectively blending history as portrayed in books with a present day walk along those corridors of history. This piece can be found in a stimulating and informative section labelled “retrospectives”.
The book is divided into five eclectic categories namely landscapes, encounters, personalities, performances and retrospectives.
In the category labelled, “performances”, Rob Leyshon’s “Shakespeare Mas” will blow your mind as it invites you into the extraordinary drama wherein “Julius Caesar” written by the great English playwright, William Shakespeare, is re-enacted in a distinctive local flavour.
Of course, you will increase your vocabulary and knowledge especially if you are a yuma, a foreigner and run into “a babalawo, a master of words”.
“Rain here deserves a wider vocabulary. Drizzle, shower, downpour, tropical wave, depression, storm, hurricane. Bananas take nine months just like a baby. Ride a ‘bicitaxi’ which is ecological, economical or inexpensive deportees which are second-hand vehicles imported from Japan.
And you will have a whale of a time whaling into Stewart Brown’s pieces as Jeremy Taylor teaches you how to fit in to become more native than the natives by “playing for a draw” or by “going to ground” – a win-win situation.
What you get is equally as important as what you could loose. You could loose your innocence on the sea wall of Guyana. You could loose your camera in Havana or your potency. You could loose your identity in Jane Bryce’s “Carnival” in Trinidad by dabbing yourself or be dabbed with black paint or mud. Here in the region there is no pressure to conform so you can be dynamic - loose yourself.
A disconcerting, you must have that too – not everything in the Caribbean is smooth sailing, is “everyone in Trinidad except me understood that the arts were not an election winner and were thus destined to remain on the sidelines”, declared Jeremy Taylor - a sad indictment despite the region producing two Nobel laureates in literature by way of Derek Walcott and V. S. Naipaul.
“Caribbean Dispatches” suffers the constraints of anthology compilation. And its editor magnanimously accepts and explains many of the “gaps and absences” of the book.
Jane Bryce said “the idea wasn’t to be comprehensive and all-encompassing…that would be a hopeless task for any book about possibly the most culturally multifarious region in the world”.
Blurbs on book are usually superb bits of advertisements but this blurb is worth quoting, ‘…it is the ideal companion for anyone fascinated by the Caribbean who wants to find out more, while for those who know the area already, it illuminates hidden corners and takes you further than you’ll ever gone before…so gripping is it that you’ll have read it on the plane before you even get there”.
“Caribbean Dispatches” is making a timely appearance – it is here in time for Carnival (Trinidad), Mashramani (Guyana) and Cricket World Cup in the region. CWC is the third largest sporting spectacular in the world.
I forthwith dispatch this book for your consideration, entertainment and action.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: email@example.com
You can now get The Guyana Annual 2006/2007 at Universal Bookstore, Austin Book Service, Michael Ford Bookstore, Nigel’s Supermarket, the National Art Gallery, Castellani House, Sandra Goodchild of Guyenterprise Ltd., and from the editor at telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org