THE CARIBBEAN ALTERNATIVE

an article by George Lear, PureFiction.com, 1999

Faber’s new Caribbean series of books has bought together authors who write in four languages, harnessing a growing interest in the area as a distinct and homogeneous cultural region. Bill Clinton, himself a native of the Southern United States, has even declared his belief that there is a strand of literature which runs from Faulkner to Marquez (who appears in the Faber series), with its links enshrouded in a mist of Creole and centuries old trading contacts as well as geographic proximity. It is an exciting series which has brought several books into the English language for the first time.

So, three authors met in a plush room at the back of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London to discuss the series, and their own books. Caryl Phillips, the well-established English based writer chaired the meeting. First up, Frank Martinus Arion began with an explosive poem, recited/rapped in both English and Papiamento, the language of his native Island, Curacao. Curacao was a former Dutch colony and much of Arion’s work has been written in Dutch. He is well established on the Dutch literary scene, where Doubleplay, the novel issued as part of the Faber series, first appeared to critical acclaim, in 1975.…

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ON ROBERT ANTONI’S “BLESSED IS THE FRUIT”

FFWD Weekly
by Janet Kawchuk

This book and I began at a standstill. It insisted on being written in such a way that made the hair on the back of my former-English teacher’s neck stand straight up. I insisted that if it couldn’t be written in proper sentences, I would not give it the satisfaction of letting it have an impact on my thoughts. I lost.

Robert Antoni’s grasp of the English language and his ability to manipulate it was, in itself, intriguing. It was through this broken, Caribbean dialect, contrasted with proper English, that I gained a greater understanding of the characters’ heartfelt dreams and disappointments. Actually, I found some of these terms seeping into my everyday life. “C’mon, Bolom, you put that knapsack pon you back, we did going to preschool next.” It was almost like studying Shakespeare – you have to just go with it and soon you are so involved with the storyline you don’t even realize you are reading what seems like a different language.

Antoni’s previous book, Divina Trace, was the winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. Blessed is the Fruit equals it in story and style. The main characters, Vel and Lilla, are West Indian women with opposite backgrounds; one a high-class white estate owner, and the other her very poor black servant.…

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ON “BLESSED IS THE FRUIT”

World Literature Today
By Jim Hannan, University of Chicago

In Robert Antoni’s second novel, Blessed Is the Fruit, he remarks that an open bottle of rnedicinal Limeachol exudes ‘the fragrance of West Indian memory.” Writing in the voices of two women differentiated by color and class, Antoni uses individual and collective memory to build bridges that cross, but don’t suppress, historical and cultural divisions in the Caribbean. Although Antoni borrows heavily from realism – he saturates the novel with precise detail, the luminous cadences of the spoken Creole voice, and an acute awareness of the body’s susceptibility to desire and violence – he does not reproduce reality. Antoni shows instead how the novel reconstitutes reality, intervening imaginatively between the world as we think we know it and as we think it could be. Antoni’s speaking voices never embody a stable; essential subject Instead, the immateriality of the fragrance of memory helps Antoni envision a performative, indeterminable; redemptive Caribbean.

Antoni halves Blessed Is the Fruit elegantly arid with exacting formal innovation between the Creole voices of Velma Bootman, a rural, sexually mistreated, persevering black housekeeper; and her employer, Lilla Grandsol, the mostly white; not particularly affluent, obsessively reclusive owner of a decaying estate house: Impressively building a narrative simultaneously claustrophobic-compulsive repetition creates a dense thematic interiority aptly reflecting Lilla’s confinement indoors and expansively well attuned to social and economic circumstances, Antoni revisits a problem central to works such as Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Michelle Cliff s Abeng.…

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