A geographer’s exuberant travel narrative about the nations and people of the Caribbean.
Jelly-Schapiro (co-editor: Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, 2016) begins with the premise that the Caribbean, a place often overlooked by both the academic and cultural mainstream, “has been anything but ‘marginal’ to the making of our modern world.” He examines this idea by offering an ambitious depiction of almost all the islands in that region in a narrative that merges historical, political, and geographical accounts of the Caribbean with the author’s abundant experiences as a traveler with an abiding fondness for the islands in all their eccentric, sometimes-bizarre complexity. He divides the book into two sections: one that discusses the islands of the Greater Antilles (Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola) and another that considers many of the Lesser Antilles (Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, Antigua, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad). In the first section, Jelly-Schapiro brings his passion for Caribbean music to the fore while delineating the people and places he encounters with precision, grace, and eloquence. He discusses how the music of people like Jamaican reggae master Bob Marley, Puerto Rican salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, and Cuban bandleader and I Love Lucy star Desi Arnaz helped put the islands on the map of world culture. In the second section, Jelly-Schapiro focuses more on writers and thinkers—e.g., Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Jean Rhys, Jamaica Kincaid, and C.L.R. James—who made the much smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles important to Western intellectual consciousness. In particular, the author examines their relationships to the places that shaped—and in some cases, came to haunt—them. While descriptive detail is one of the book’s strengths, it is also the source of a possible weakness. Caribbean studies scholars will no doubt find much to appreciate in this fine academic study–cum-travelogue. However, a general audience may be somewhat daunted by the very detail that is at the heart of this fine, if at times meandering, book.
An eminently well-informed narrative.