Uncle Brother – A Novel

Barbara Lalla’s 2014 novel, Uncle Brother, published by The University of the West Indies Press, is a wise, culturally faithful and very funny tribute to heroism and loving personal sacrifice in family life. This third novel focuses on the subtle and not-so-subtle cultural and historical richness of the people of the Caribbean Island of Trinidad. Her first two novels, Cascade and Arch of Fire, focused on her native Jamaica, where she grew up, studied, and fell in love with a gifted young Trinidadian also at UWI in Mona. Her subsequent decades in Trinidad, where she lives, teaches and writes, have made possible this faithful and brilliant tribute that begins in the 19th century and ends in 2010, a decade into the twenty-first.

The book’s central character of “Nathan” found inspiration in a real person from a bustling rural town in southern Trinidad. Nathan is the fictional main “author” of his family’s story, put together from a treasure trove of notes and documents in English, including one in French and one in Hindi he has written or collected and saved through eight decades. Members of his family and friends also contribute their memories to the story. Both sides of the precocious Nathan’s family came from India in the 19th century when they were brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers after slavery from Africa had been “abolished.” The complexity of feelings produced by this continental uprooting is just one aspect of the history of Trinidad’s people that Lalla presents with great sensitivity and insight.

The scope of the story has enabled talented, perceptive, and poetically memorable reflections on both intensely personal and broader 21st century political issues. It describes the struggles of the folk on a small, multi-cultural, “multi-continental” island to endure a final century of colonial government and later govern themselves during over half a century of self-government after independence from Britain on 1 August, 1962.

One unforgettable example: Nathan’s 12-year-old sister, Judith, who often helped her mother in her “vegetable” garden, asks him about the descriptions of beautiful gardens by great English authors he has given her to read: “How could karaile and pumpkin and all the other things that grew in a garden like Ma’s be pretty?” Nathan soon after took her on a journey to Port of Spain to see the Royal Botanical Gardens. Judith reflects: “It made him still more godlike in my eyes, for although he had not made the garden he had placed me in it however briefly and it in me forever… ”

The story includes playful and often hilarious dialogue in Trinidad “English,” a combination of English and Creole French with the languages of other cultures, like Spanish, Hindi and Amerindian that have interacted over the centuries since Columbus arrived in 1498. A massive 12,000-entry testimony to the seductive pull of Trini-talk is Dictionary of the English Creole of Trinidad and Tobago by Canadian editor Lise Winer who has devoted many years to collecting and referencing a language that makes English itself richer.

This inspiring, captivating story is also a thriller that includes some violence and, toward the end, some vitally important suspense. It is a wonderful, mature tour-de-force by a sophisticated story-teller that combines many laugh-out-loud moments with a complex worldview and a deep understanding of the human psyche.

 

 

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Learning to “Struggle It Out” in Jackson

Poor, black US citizens are among the world’s many suffering canaries in the coal mine of unfettered-Capitalism, that unsustainable pursuit, having finally disempowered all of us except for the “point0-0-whatever%” that threatens to take the 99.99whatever% down the road to starvation, widespread war and extinction.

Chris Hedges interviews a rare sort of leader, Kali Akuno, a co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, a recent movement of poor, black citizens in Mississippi’s capital, Jackson.

Amy Goodman’s interview on Democracy Now with Akuno on the topic: Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination, in December last year, is excellent as well, especially for its inclusion of an appraisal of ultra-right Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and President Donald Trump. Akuno here points out a new white supremacy initiative building in America.

Under attack by a new city gentrification initiative that will eventually drive them off the land on which they currently eke out their humble, desperate existence,  Cooperation Jackson is  a movement started by Chokwe Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson until his death on Feb. 25, 2014. Akuno was his Director of Special Projects and External Funding.

This movement is a fascinating phenomenon that uses many of the potentially planet-saving Décroissance concepts being tried in different places I described in my October 2014 post, La Movement Décroissance. The French word Décroissance, uniquely combines the concept of degrowth with that of stopping believing in the way the current money-based system works. In Cerbère in Southern France and the Barcelona area, small communities have been established that:

  • Eat locally – and mostly plants
  • Squat
  • Disobey strategically some of the System’s “precepts”
  • Borrow, barter and time-trade, reducing dependence on money

The key objectives of Akuno’s movement outlined in his interview with Chris Hedges are excitingly similar: Continue reading “Learning to “Struggle It Out” in Jackson”

Morocco Reading

These are the books we read before visiting Morocco. All of them I would recommend.

Marika Oufkir: Stolen Years – Twenty Years In A Desert Jail

Paul Bowles: A Sheltering Sky

Tahir Shaw: The Caliph’s House – A Year in Casablanca

Barbara Hodgson: The Tattoed Map

Two (Widely Different) Accidents

When the light doesn’t co-operate – or does it?

I apologize for the pixelation in these photos. They were taken with my camcorder because my SLR at the time had low light sensitivity, and I didn’t have Anita’s awesome Canon point and shoot. Now I own a Sony NEX-5N mirrorless. Quite a change!

Ronda’s plaza de toros is one of the most famous bull rings in all of Spain. I attempted to take an available light photo of the little room where the  matador prays before entering this bloody contest, giving him an, albeit slight, unfair advantage. Actually the torero has many unfair advantages over the bull. Advantages I don’t need to list.

On the verge of pressing the delete button after coming home the photo appealed to me. I can’t say that I heard anything, like a tiny peep of “please don’t delete me” or a lightning bolt suddenly coming out of a clear sky. Maybe more the fact that I was in it…

Anyway, the more I look at it the more I see. Like a poem with many layers. I would really be interested in what you see in this accident, other than the fact that my baseball cap was on backwards. Not a fashion statement, but a photographer’s technical choice.

I remember thinking that, if there were a hierarchy of moments when prayer is necessary, this would rank pretty highly.

Proof of what I just said is given below in a photo on the wall of a well known bar off Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, called Bar Andalú, El Torre de Oro. In this gory (I beg your pardon) example, it is demonstrated that the matador sometimes has to delegate the final kill to his underlings.

Photo in a famous Madrid bar highlights the risks of being a matador

The Bar Andalú is a shrine to the art of bullfighting. On its walls hang the heads of famous bulls, vestments of famous bullfighters and photo after photo of bulls, bullfighters and iconic political figures as wildly different as Franco and Che Guevara.

Another photo of the Bar Andalú, one of a bunch of crazy places that make Spain uniquely fascinating.

A small sampling of Spain in this eclectic display. For an educated gringo’s brilliant, appreciative sampling I recommend Michener’s great book Iberia

I am mostly done with bullfighting, I hope, but not with beautiful, historic Ronda…