[Caribbean Literature]

David Lichtenstein's Annotated Reading List for Caribbean Literature

Antoni, Robert. Divina Trace. Woodstock: The Overland Press, 1991.

Brathwaite, Kamau. Rites of Passage, section one of The Arrivants; a new world trilogy. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

This series of poems takes Brathwaite's readers on a historical tour of black life, from the chains of slavery in Africa to sugar plantations and urban renaissance in North America. Along the way Brathwaite brings out the voices of characters to personify the age and the condititions in which they lived.

Brodber, Erna. Louisiana. London: New Beacon Books, 1994.

Brodber's third novel charts Ella's journey into the past life of Mammy King, whom she communicates with from beyond the grave. But her pilgrimage takes her into her own past as well, and into the past of her community, linking the black experience in North America with that of the Caribbean.

Harris, Wilson. The Palace of the Peacock. London: Faber and Faber, 1960.

Harris's visionary work breaks down barriers between life and death, past and present, even conqueror and conquered as a group of men journey down a river in search of the mysterious Mariella. Their journey and deaths reveal Harris's ultimate aim of revisioning the lines that have long divided humanity, and ultimately finding a spiritual bond that all people share.

Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1990

The lines of fiction and autobiography blur as Kincaid tells the story of a young girl from a small island moving to the opulence and ignorance of a North American city. Details from Kincaid's own life fuel that of Lucy, whose critical eye breaks down both North America and the Caribbean, as well as all of her close relationships, including the all-important one with her mother.

___. A Small Place. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.

The first book I recall reading about the Caribbean. Kincaid sets out, in precise and sparing prose, many of the issues relevant to Postcolonial Caribbean literature -- the relationship between colony and empire, the language problematic, and the stagnant atmosphere of the island. A good, short book to read to understand the basic issues that many Caribbean writers take on and expand.

___. The Autobiography of My Mother. London: Vintage, 1996.

Ostensibly a long fictional memoir told by an aging Caribbean woman, this novel takes a fresh look at Kincaid's common motif of a love-hate mother-daughter relationship. As she investigates her past (one without her mother, who died at her own birth) she sees power dynamics, born perhaps out of those between colony and empire, in every relationship. The narrator searches in vain for a way to escape the pain of history and the pain of her own isolation.

Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1970.

Lamming's seminal work has been chastized, perhaps rightly so, for taking a pedagogic stance on the lack of development in a Caribbean island. Despite this, his novel weaves together the voices of a Barbados village, vividly portraying the realities of village life in the mid-twentieth century Caribbean.

Lovelace, Earl. The Wine of Astonishment. Oxford: Heinemann, 1982.

The reader witnesses the quest for freedom of worship of the Spiritual Baptist church through the eyes of Eva, a woman of the village. As narrator, Eva evokes the the sounds and experiences of a colonial village in Trinidad.

Naipaul, V.S. A Bend in the River. New York: Vintage International, 1979.

The only book on this list that does not deal directly with the Caribbean, Naipaul instead focuses on a young Indian man's experiences in Central Africa. Naipaul's clear vision shines through as he portrays the struggles, both on the small and large scale, of a newly independent nation to develop without losing touch with its people and their traditions.

___. The Enigma of Arrival. London: Penguin Books, 1987.

Naipaul, like Kincaid, tells a story based mainly on incidents from his own life. He portrays the life of a writer, a man who escapes from Trinidad to England in order to create. But his creativity suffers until he learns to accept his status and past as a Postcolonial man, to cease filtering his experience with romantic ideals.

Phillips, Caryl. Cambridge. New York: Vintage International, 1991.

Phillips takes three accounts of one event -- the death of a white plantation manager on a colonial West Indian island -- and sets them against each other. Phillips interrogates historiography as well as perspective, as each account is based on "historical" documents such as slave narratives or Victorian women's travelogues.

Walcott, Derek. Omeros. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.

Walcott rewrites The Iliad with a Caribbean twist, using the Greek legend to elevate the story of a St. Lucian fisherman's quest for his roots (and for the beautiful Helen) to epic dimensions. Walcott's own story appears as well, as the poet deals with guilt over writing of the suffering of his compatriots and anger at the colonizing powers that induced such suffering.

___. Pantomime. from Remembrance & Pantomime : two plays. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1980.

On the one hand, this play explores the power dynamics between men of the former colony and former empire in a modern, Postcolonial world. On the other, Walcott develops the notion of drama as a safe space in which deep-seeded feelings of guilt and anger can be worked out.

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