A STATE OF INDEPENDENCE by Caryl Phillips
Kirkus Star

A STATE OF INDEPENDENCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A moving and acute second novel, by an England-based native of St. Kitts: a bitterly ironic commentary on the empty ""independence"" of that small Caribbean island told from the souring perspective of a middle age--when a returned native sees the road ahead, which he'd imagined bright with promise, now clogged with failed expectations, opportunities gone by, and love and loyalties of family and friends wasted away. Bertram Francis is coming home to St. Kitts after 20 years in England, where he had been sent at 19 as winner of an island scholarship. Now he's returning to ""help the new nation."" Perhaps he'll open a business, ""something that don't make me dependent on the white man."" But in the blistered shack of his boyhood, his ill mother turns from him in contempt; he learns that his younger brother, Dominic, who had adored him, is dead; and his childhood friend, Jackson Clayton, now a prosperous wheeler-dealer--""Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Housing, Labour and Tourism""--advises him to go back where he came from. He's the ""wrong material for the new Caribbean. . .you all do think too fast and too crazy."" Bertram wanders the island, past scorched sand and sweating cane-cutters; he's ""overwhelmed and disturbed by bare brown legs, tired black limbs, rusty minds."" He meets Lonnie, son of a long-ago favorite bartender, who tells him about the ""new Caribbean"": ""Owner-trash is still owner-trash,"" Lonnie says contemptuously. But old friend Jackson recognizes happily that the country's destiny lies under the US eagle. Bertram visits the splendid Royal Hotel, an oasis in a land of poverty, and on Independence Day hell see Princess Margaret speed by to help make it all happen. (While British gunboats salute the new nation, a man is stringing wires for the first TV cable from the US.) It is with Patsy, whom Bertram had loved and left years before, that he finds, in his desolation, the first green spear of gentleness--and possibly forgiveness: for his failure in England, where for 20 years ""nothing happened""; for severing all communication with his family (he knew he'd have to return one day empty-handed, and the guilt was too much to bear); for his own, now-recognized, ""mediocrity."" A quiet, sensitive exploration of a sad and maddening truth--that there are, in a world of big fish and little fish, lovers and loved, no ""states of independence.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1986
ISBN: 0679759301
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux