THE WINE OF ASTONISHMENT by Earl Lovelace

THE WINE OF ASTONISHMENT

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Brief episodes--from during and just after World War II--in the Trinidad village of Bonasse, where narrator Eva watches three men deal in contrasting ways with the encroaching presence of ""civilization."" Eva's husband Bee, poor farmer and dedicated preacher, suffers mightily--watching the village take on Yankee-sleazy ways during the war, having his Spiritual Baptist church declared illegal. (""If we clap hands and catch the Spirit, the police could arrest us. One day we was Baptist, the next day we is criminals."") So the last straw comes when one of Bee's sons decides to become a policeman: at last the gentle, law-abiding farmer/preacher is driven to fight back a little--with Eva celebrating the illegal burst of worship (""how we rise, how we rise up, how we dance and sing and how we break the law like the law was nothing""). Meanwhile, Bee and Eva's childhood friend Ivan Morton takes the assimilationist, climbing route. He turns Catholic, goes to college, marries a light-skinned girl (after leaving poor dark Eulalie with a baby), gets rich and posh, and eventually becomes ""the man to talk for us""--a black voice on the Legislative Council. But Ivan is vexingly slow to do anything about the Spiritual Baptist ban, infuriating Bee with his failure to ""understand that to free the church is to free us."" Again and again, in fact, the villagers are betrayed by the politicians, by the farce of pseudo-democracy: ""We really blind not to see that to these people we is just a joke that come in fashion once every five years when they come with pen and paper and take our names, promising to bring down the moon and the stars, fêting us on rum and roti so we could ride their car on election morning and mark a X next to their name."" And another childhood friend, wild Bolo, embodies the anti-colonial refusal ""to give up his manness without a struggle"": he feverishly clings to a tribal-warrior image, confronting both the authorities and his fellow villagers at every turn, ""this recklessness and vexation and wickedness boiling up in him""--until committing a terrible crime, sacrificing himself to awaken the village. Lovelace (The Schoolmaster, 1968) doesn't quite succeed in ennobling Bolo's crazed violence with the theme of cultural integrity. And Eva, though an often-eloquent narrator (in muted dialect), is herself a blank-faced character. Still: vivid glimpses of a village in anguished transition--stark, bitterly humorous, impassioned.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1984
Publisher: Vintage/Random House