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.

 

 

Neoliberalism’s Legacy

Ravens on steps at Barr'd Island

This Chris Hedges post inspired my listing below, but my own blunt, scruffy and ornery mood soon took over, so don’t blame him…

Neoliberalism’s Grand Achievement: 8 Families now own half of the Planet’s “wealth”

A concise, incomplete history of it’s ascendency:

  • Sharing the wealth was invented to deal with uppity, but needed, unionized workers in the 20th century
  • A phoney science called “economics” was born and nurtured
  • They stumbled onto a flawed idea called “free” trade
  • Corporations were soon made into “persons” with rights and the ability to live forever; that’s much longer than real persons live
  • Those rights grew and grew as worker’s power shrank
  • Human rights, such as clean water, became “commodities” – sold at a positively pornographic price in some places
  • Market “freedom” inevitably led to privatization: fewer and richer Rich vs more and poorer Poor
  • Entertainment and gadgetry kept the middle class distracted – a worthy crowd control project presented to government/corporate/labour think tanks in the 70’s
  • Monopolies were made legal instead of criminal
  • Unemployment Insurance was euphemized Employment Insurance in Canada
  • Companies were allowed to use their employees’ pension savings, including the workers’ own contributions leaving just a bunch of promised numbers in the safe
  • Banks were allowed play with insurance and sell mutual funds
  • Crazy shit like derivatives became a way for the banks to get richer – until they didn’t
  • Your taxes and mine went to bail out poorly managed banks and their overpaid executives
  • Car companies were bailed out even though they broke their pension promises
  • Private equity firm(s) gobbled up peoples’ houses at auctions as if they’d planned it.
  • “Disaster Capitalism” took control of natural and organized disasters
  • Little wealth was created, just redistributed upward
  • The good freedoms of the many (association, speech…) were replaced by freedoms of the few (monopoly, price gauging, foreclosure…)
  • Human beings are now just another “commodity” to those above eight families.

Conflict Near and Far

Cai Be floating market - Mekong Delta - 2008
From my heart to yours… Cai Bé floating market – 2008

I can’t let this lie.

Two tragedies (out of the myriad people on our planet suffer regularly) stand out in my mind and grieve my heart:

Gaza and Malaysia Flight MH17.

Many others exist, but these two are the worst for me because they involve unimaginable grief and they fuel the fires of long-standing hatreds. An earthquake or flood can bring people together. These two drive people apart.

Both involve bad political decisions made in the 20th century and both are being used in the 21st century to fan the flames across these two centuries.

I cannot bear to watch coverage of these events because I am acutely aware of the way all mainstream media, including my once-preciously-impartial-and-fairly accurate CBC, are being used and/or intimidated to further the goals of the new set of global conflicts in which Our Side are always the good guys and Their Side are invariably wearing the feathered headdresses or black cowboy hats.

So I write what I consider to be the brutal, unvarnished “truth.” After five decades of travel (In September 1965 at 20 I began a two-year volunteer teaching assignment in the West Indies),  observing world politics  and studying alternative and mainstream news sources I can fool myself into fervently believing that I “get it” – not all of it, but the “broad strokes” at least.

The process of writing my “truth” is cathartic for me. I’m a mess after simply glancing at the present media circus.

Then I reconsider what effect my blunt, certain-to-be-misunderstood-by-many “truth-telling” will have on my ability to continue to do the other things I love that make a real differences to a limited number of very important people.

And I take the post down and pick up the guitar.

The “eyes” have it… Or due they?

This was true, luckily for me. Mother always said. “A dog without influence or private means, if he is to make his way in the world, must have either good looks or amiability.” But, according to her, I over did it.

WordPress always, it seems, has suggestions for better ways for me to write things. I have never known it to simply let me post something without reminding me that it might be improved. While I am grateful for the genie’s help on many occasions, I suspected that it may be an automatic sort of operation.

So, to test things out, I retyped the  above small, 34-word excerpt from P.G. Wodehouse, a brilliantly funny – and meticulous – writer, into this post. I took it from page 58 of his book of short stories, The Man With Two Left Feet. Continue reading “The “eyes” have it… Or due they?”

Thinking and Writing

Blogging from home today instead of my Toyota dealer’s customer lounge. I have been going through a very active period of thinking lately and have realized that I’ll never get this stuff down unless I stop trying to produce a detailed reference for everyone I quote or whose ideas I express. The penny has dropped that I am not writing an academic paper when I blog. I blog to develop my thoughts and communicate the products of my thinking, my music or my photography to others. Full stop.

I will give references to documents and links where and when I can do so easily, but will not slow my writing down to serve the god of total disclosure. I will ask you, the reader, to trust that I’m doing my best.

That said, I admire a writer like Noam Chomsky who, due to the controversial nature of his ideas, meticulously gives footnotes and references for every idea he presents. He faces enough opposition as it is…

“Passionate Caring” or My Favorite Photographer

Autumn's Graces (copyright 2006) with permission
Autumn’s Graces (copyright 2006) with permission

My eldest (of three) daughter introduced me to Freeman Patterson’s work back in the 1990’s. She gave me his early book, Photographing The World Around You, A Visual Design Workshop, published in 1994. It is full of my pink highlighting because of the wonderful, simple way this great ~170 page book describes how to compose a photo. He is, for me, the consummate artist and teacher. I use ideas gleaned from this book and another, entitled Photography And The Art Of Seeing, in my humble work. I have nowhere near a true devotion to this art (photography being only one of my interests) but respect those, like Patterson, who do possess such commitment and insight.

Since a majority of the people whom I’ve met in the wordpress community have an interest in photography, I thought I would bring him to your attention.

Patterson, from Shampers Bluff, New Brunswick, not only loves his art; he does good with it and because of it. He has won nineteen major awards over his illustrious career including, in 1985, the Order of Canada (C.M.).

He is a generous philanthropist with a sensitive caring about, and a deep commitment to, Mother Earth. He is responsible for preserving from development  a beautiful part of Africa that he loves to photograph: Namaqualand. From his website’s Art Statement I’ve taken the following:

…no amount of technical knowledge and competence is, of itself, sufficient to make a craftperson into an artist. That requires caring — passionate caring about ultimate things. For me there is a close connection between art and religion in the sense that both are concerned about questions of meaning — if not about the meaning of existence generally, then certainly about the meaning of one’s individual life and how a person relates to his or her total community/environment.

His work is absolutely beautiful and unique. He works only in film. He is 75 this year. He gives amazing workshops. Check him out.

The CBC – “My Precious”

The CBC, especially radio, for me – is air. Not simply “on the air.” It is for my mind what air is for my body. It is what keeps Canada sensitive to human kindness and cooperation. It brings quality broadcasting to isolated communities in the far north of our vast and sparsely populated country – something that would never happen if it had to make a profit. It is as important an organ to Canada as the heart is to any human.

I can’t remember whether I listened to CBC radio much while growing up in Lachine, Québec, near Montreal. CJAD was a private station that my parents listened to primarily. My aunt, Helen, worked for CJAD. As a teenager I listened to the hit parade mostly on CKGM. Ray Charles was my favorite. Continue reading “The CBC – “My Precious””