Lyrical short stories capture the personality of author Carew (Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean, 1995, etc.), his South American-Caribbean homeland and its people.
Combining elements of folklore and Guyanese patois with a sophisticated and contemporary eye, these very short stories depict a range of interesting misfits. Some of them are small, such as Belfon, a half-starved child, whose mother brings him to a white benefactor so she can return to her “wild, catch-as-catch-can life.” But most of Carew’s protagonists are larger than life, in both size and actions. Ti-Zek, for example, defies death, reviving a murdered friend and laughing, eventually, over the grave of their oppressor. Caesar, a gentle giant, also laughs, this time at the outright racism of a landlord, while somber Chantal, “built like a Watusi warrior,” is haunted by unhappy love. And for each of these flawed personalities, these mountains of masculinity, there’s a strong, outlaw woman, such as Belle, the six-foot-tall courtesan who could “fight like a tigress,” and Couvade, who initiates the 20-year-old Belfon. Characters recur in this thin collection, fleshing out overarching themes of individual strength and the search for identity. Rather than relying on plot, these brief episodes are profiles of a particular kind of courage. Poor people are fostered by the rich and wonder who they may become; bookish children find paths toward education; and young men follow paths to Europe and the United States. While the patois dialogue can be confusing, and at times may suggest a patronizing attitude toward uneducated country folk, the overall effect of these stories is magical. Almost written more in poetry than prose, they act like delicate gesture drawings, evoking personalities in crisis. By mixing the beauty of the tropics with the harsh realities of poverty, they create a series of striking portraits of a people and their place.
An evocative collection that suggests facets of the author’s vast experience with subtle, often beautiful language.