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Caribbean books watch list

Sunday, March 8, 2015

This is a promising year for new releases in fiction, poetry and non-fiction from the Caribbean literary world and its diaspora. Two of the four books I’m most looking forward to reading are written by authors who live and work in Trinidad, while the other two are written by Caribbean-British writers. 

A Caribbean story can flourish anywhere, to different depths, and this rich quartet of upcoming titles proves that, based on the strength of their promise alone.

The Lost Child

by Caryl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2015)

The work of Kittitian-British novelist, playwright and non-fiction writer Caryl Phillips delves into the experiences of African diaspora peoples in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and elsewhere, rendering their lives in complex and imaginative relief. His newest novel, The Lost Child, is a bold and ambitious undertaking: a response to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Reconfiguring the personages of Cathy and Heathcliff, Phillips’ fictionalising is also investigative, asking questions of bloodlines, origins and the nature of family life. Works of art that alter the perspectives from which we view an inherited landscape are crucial. When powerfully done, they resonate with the resolute strength of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. In Phillips’ immense storytelling hands, the thwarted tale of Cathy and Heathcliff is primed to exist discretely and successfully outside of the realm of its source material.

The Whale House and Other Stories

by Sharon Millar (Peepal Tree Press, April 2015)

Despite co-winning the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for The Whale House, Sharon Millar continues to be one of Trinidad’s better-kept literary secrets. Thankfully, the publication of her first book, a short story collection which contains that Commonwealth prizewinner, should serve to put Millar more solidly on the local and regional map—not just on its periphery, but in the centre of its orbit. Millar’s prose is sharp and carefully wrought, a testament to her time spent studying creative writing formally in the MFA programme at Lesley University. The Whale House is a tale of human grief set against nature’s majesty; if it is any indication of the collection’s strength, then Millar’s book launch at the 2015 NGC Bocas Lit Fest will be one of the itinerary’s highlights.

The Strange Years of My Life 

by Nicholas Laughlin (Peepal Tree Press, April 2015)

Laughlin, programme director of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, editor of Caribbean Beat magazine and the Caribbean Review of Books, and co-director of the Woodbrook arts space Alice Yard, wears a vital abundance of literary hats. It might surprise even better-read, book-club attending Trinis to learn that Laughlin’s own work as a poet is illuminating, and arguably as vital as his ceaseless contributions to the local and regional arts atmosphere. The Strange Years of My Life is an emotional and symbolic organisation of his poems, spread across several years of writing and travelling. Writing for The Operating System, UK-based Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo also describes Laughlin’s writing as vital, in the ways that it “brings Caribbean lyric consciousness right up to date, without being overtly political.” Elements of the personal, framed as a political, private carnival of the self are at work, echoing throughout these poems. Their print publication is a long-hoped-for delight.

Long Time No See 

by Hannah Lowe (Periscope Books, May 2015)

In her first full-length poetry collection, Hannah Lowe focused on the extraordinary and misadventure-marked life of her father, a half-Chinese, half-black Jamaican immigrant known amongst his gambling cronies as “Chick.” The poems in Chick revealed the gaps in understanding between father and daughter, the vacancies of affection marked by a dangerous, uncertain profession and an unsteady home life. Long Time No See, Lowe’s forthcoming book, turns the reader’s attention towards the same story, told this time not in verse but as a memoir. It’s especially interesting to see if this narrative will cut closer to the bone, in its reformatted structure. Lowe’s memoir raises questions about multiple ways of telling a difficult and essential truth, and hints at being as emotively riveting as its poetic predecessor. 

Other books:

Other Caribbean titles to look out for:

Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater by Lawrence Scott (Papillote Press, March 2015)

Burn by Andre Bagoo (Shearsman Books, April 2015)

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson (Penguin Press, June 2015)


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