Jack’s debut collection weaves together spirited vignettes recalling his boyhood in Trinidad.
For Gabriel, Jack’s fictional stand-in, there’s no such thing as small beginnings. His recollections come from the years he lives in Toco, a small village on Trinidad, during the second world war. Toco’s remoteness prevents Gabriel from focusing too much on European scuffles, though. While raucous soldiers add an exciting new element to village life, they’re largely seen as a curiosity; there are plenty of more interesting occurrences in these far-from-bucolic island days. A mix of superstition, Caribbean Christianity and island traditions shapes Gabriel’s understanding of the world, turning seemingly normal life events into exhilarating, sometimes harrowing affairs. Zombies, ghosts, ancient village charms, the Obeah man’s visits—he’s a kind of witch doctor—and charismatic priests imbue these stories with an entrancing flavor, while hardscrabble daily requirements, from fetching river water to curing meat for dinner, aren’t described as burdensome tasks but spirit endeavors. Undaunted by daily challenges, he maintains innocence and hopefulness, both of which enable him to make declarations and list dreams bound to awaken nostalgia. There are other mountains to climb, hummingbirds to snatch out of midair, lighthouses to ascend and girls to charm. Readers will enjoy watching Gabriel grow into a young man, and when a rupture in family life forces him to leave Toco behind, readers may find themselves sharing in his dismay. Jack, a skillful writer, capably relates island parlance while injecting his tales with affecting color and passion, not to mention a few black-and-white illustrations. Most of the stories successfully fit together, and Jack’s proclaimed goal to relate what life was like in rural Trinidad in the ’30s and ’40s has been achieved.
Readers will be happily lost in this lively, engrossing book about home and family.