[Caribbean Literature]

Divina Trace and Polyrhythm

Part One: The Polyrhythmic Structure of the Novel

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

In his debut novel Divina Trace, Robert Antoni explores the possibilities of polyrhythm to a greater degree than any previous West Indian author. His creation of a work composed of varied genres, accents, and media, all clashing against one another, in the end serves two key purposes for Antoni. First, it allows him to explore the interactions between storyteller and audience, and second, it frees his novel from some of the limiting binaries traditionally tackled by Postcolonial writers.

One encounters Divina Trace's polyrhythmic structure with a first glance at the novel. For it comprises seven different versions of the story of Magdalena Divina (some in multiple installments), each as told to the unifying narrator, Johnny Domingo Jr. Each version -- related by such narrators as Mother Superior General Maurina, Prioress of the convent, Evelina, "obeahwoman" and servant of the Domingo family, or even Hanuman, the Monkey Prince -- represents the distinct dialect (or language) of its narrator as well as his or her unique perspective. Because Antoni passes the different stories directly from their narrator to Johnny, unmediated and unfiltered, they often contrast, conflict, and thoroughly confuse their young listener. Johnny struggles throughout the novel, much like the reader, to assemble the conflicting rhythms of these stories into one coherent composition, a neat legend of the black Madonna of Corpus Christi.

Divina Trace reflects the polyrhythmic model in other ways as well. The use of multiple genres -- storytelling (oral literature), epic poem, newspaper account, letter -- and different media (in addition to words, drawings, a picture from a medical journal, even a mirror appears) implies a complex whole that Antoni has assembled from previously incongruous pieces. And thematically, the author brings many forces to bear against each other, such as the clash between religion and science that the Domingo doctors (Johnny and his father) must reconcile. Ultimately, faith seems to win out: "But before long Hanuman put down all such worry/ In blindfaith he take up he pencil..." (p.216). The Monkey Prince, like the other characters, eventually realizes that only by possessing some faith can he hope to achieve this goal of reconciliation, whether it be in understanding the Magdalena story or hoping for a sympathetic audience for his own story. Thus this act of faith covers not only the characters within the story, but the author and reader as well, who must find some way to reconcile the walls separating them from each other.


Antoni, Robert. Divina Trace. New York: Overlook Press, 1991.

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