An illumination of the interplay of art, culture, politics, race, and history in Guyana, a Caribbean country mostly ignored by the rest of the world but which serves here as a fascinating microcosm for the power of art to inspire change.
This is a singular book, one that is not conventionally academic nor a conventional travel narrative nor a conventional work of arts criticism nor even a conventional piece of journalistic reportage, yet it draws from all of those disciplines as a deeply felt and passionately expressed manifesto. Cultural critic Hopkinson (Communication, Culture, and Media Studies/Howard Univ.; Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City, 2012) was born in Canada and has long lived in the United States, but she clearly feels a strong connection to Guyana, her parents’ homeland. She sets the scene with Guyana’s version of carnival, where there is a tension between unity and multiculturalism and where the government has co-opted so much of what was once indigenous culture in the country that “bills itself as the ‘Land of Six Peoples.’ ” The setting is the eve of the 2015 election, and tensions are running even higher in a country where dissidents have not only risked repression, but death. As the author writes, “there are…ethnic grudges raging beneath the surface of every conversation here. Like an arranged marriage that began to rot ages ago, the various races in Guyana know exactly how to swing where it hurts.” Hopkinson provides valuable context for colonialism, slavery, the importation of workers from India, the mythic El Dorado, and the death cult of Jim Jones, and she interweaves capsule histories of the brutal sugar industry and the empire built by the family that originally endowed the Booker Prize. The author also presents indelible portraits of activist writers and artists and of the martyr Walter Rodney.
Not merely a book about Guyana, but an impressively rendered story about imperialism in general and cultural imperialism in particular.