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by Robert Antoni

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61775-155-4
Publisher: Akashic

Antoni (Carnival, 2005, etc.) offers up a novel set in 19th-century and modern-day Trinidad.

Some believe that John Adolphus Etzler is a con artist, but the charismatic inventor asserts that his new nature-powered machine, the Satellite, will free men from all forms of labor. Although his claims may be a bit too good to be true—in fact, the machine’s public unveiling and demonstration isn’t exactly stellar—British citizens of all classes are willing to fill Etzler’s coffers and invest in his newly founded Tropical Emigration Society. Their dream: to establish a Utopian society in Trinidad using Etzler’s apparatus. Among the emigrants is the Tucker family, including 15-year-old Willy, who narrates the story. While onboard the Rosalind, Willy contrives to spend his time with socially prominent 18-year-old Marguerite Whitechurch, who communicates through writing because she lacks vocal cords. They fall deeply in love and find creative ways to spend time together—at first furtively and then more openly as few appear to notice or care. Following the long voyage, Etzler (who spent a couple of days tied to the mast for an outrageous claim) absconds to South America and leaves the investors to travel by schooner from Port-au-Prince to Chaguabarriga, the site of their future community. To the men’s dismay, Etzler's machine ends up stuck in the water, the schooner is damaged, and they discover that the plot they purchased is little more than swampland. The men try to salvage what they can, but more misery strikes—this time in the form of Black Vomit (yellow fever)—and Willy must wrestle with decisions that will impact the future. Although wearisome at times, the emotional influence of Willy’s narrative—his loving descriptions of the people who surround him—is profoundly effective. Some may be discouraged by the characters’ use of dialect, which initially is difficult to comprehend, but it’s a crucial element of the story. It’s the modern-day correspondence from T&T National Archives Director Miss Ramsol to writer “Robot” that provides many laugh-out-loud moments and endears Antoni (who pokes fun at himself) to the reader.

Strikes strong emotional chords.