A Gathering of the Caribbean’s Brightest Literati

Book Review: ‘Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today’

By Marie-Annick Montout Created: October 3, 2012 Last Updated: October 8, 2012
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The book cover of “Beyond Sangre Grande,” an anthology of Caribbean writers. (Courtesy TSAR Publications)

The book cover of “Beyond Sangre Grande,” an anthology of Caribbean writers. (Courtesy TSAR Publications)

Whether they currently live in the English-speaking Caribbean region or not, all of the 43 Caribbean authors selected by Cyril Dabydeen for his fourth anthology respond to the challenge of extending the Caribbean space beyond “borders or accepted boundaries” and to try and define what Caribbeanness is about.

The tone of Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today is given by VS Naipaul’s poetical letter written from Oxford to his father in Trinidad, which Dabydeen, the editor of the anthology, has placed before his introduction.

“I feel nostalgic for home,” Naipaul writes, although he would soon realize that he had to live in the wider world, beyond the confines of his small island.

Sangre Grande, a town on the island of Trinidad, is the image of the small place beyond which writers must extend. It houses regional writing both within and outside the Caribbean region.

Dabydeen has lived in Ottawa for a number of years now having left Guyana, his home country, in 1970. He is the prolific author of numerous poems, stories, and novels, such as Stoning the Wind (poems), The Wizard Swami (novel), and Play a Song Somebody: New and Selected Stories, to name but a few.

I met and interviewed Dabydeen during a recent trip to Canada. His generosity of heart and contagious enthusiasm drew my admiration. These qualities are, I feel, reflected in his selections.

Not all the selected authors are already well established with a reputation, so the reader feels he meets old friends who can still surprise him, and makes new ones with whom he will surely develop a long-lasting relationship.

Caribbean literature has already established its worth both in the region and outside.

I personally responded to Austin Clarke’s wonderful story If the Bough Breaks, and to Fred D’Aguiar’s poem Calypso History Lesson. I was moved by Ramabai Espinet’s Talking Between the Rooms For Lynnette (1947-2004).

I was delighted to find that Olive Senior’s famous story The Two Grandmothers deeply resonates with Chapter 1 of Marina Budhos’s Tell Us We’re Home. Both Senior and Budhos share a taste for looking at things from different perspectives.

I discovered Dabydeen’s elegiac poem “Meeting Mrs. Martin Carter” and his bitter-sweet story The Sapodilla Queen, and many more pleasurable moments did I spend in the attractive company of all those gathered in the book, including such iconic poets as Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, and Lorna Goodison, who echoed as old favourites.

“Our reviews,” Canadian writer André Alexis complains, ”have become, at the worst, about the revelation of the reviewer’s opinion, not about the consideration of the book or an account of the small world that briefly held writer and reviewer in the orbit of a book.”

With this in mind, I can only state that the reader is enticed to want to learn more about each one of the authors carefully brought together within the book.

But perhaps more important than the desire to seek out the work of a particular author in the collection is the magical feeling one experiences upon reading the anthology at a stretch. At the end of the book there’s the feeling one has entered a different, subtly distinct world which needs to be explored as a whole.

Let there be no mistake: Caribbean literature has already established its worth both in the region and outside, be it in the Americas, Europe, or anywhere around the world.

Its significance has come and “stayed” within the wider world. Dabydeen’s particular merit in editing this wonderful anthology is to make it known that Caribbean literature is both alive and lively, and definitely here to stay.

Marie-Annick Montout is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Angers in France.

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