SUPERB FIRST NOVEL EMBODIES CARIBBEAN’S RICH AMALGAM

Miami Herald
by Cristina Garcia

The vivid immediacy of oral storytelling rarely intersects with narrative fiction. The oral tradition is an art apart, an improvisa¬tional, fluctuating feast for the senses. In his extraordinary first novel, Divina Trace, Robert Antoni beautifully captures the spirit of oral storytelling without compromising the commitment of the written word. Divina Trace is about myth-making, about faith and forgiveness and the spellbinding power of language.

There are seven narrators in this richly embroidered tale, all of whom speak a calla¬loo stew of Trinidadian dialects accented with their own cadences and idiosyncrasies: The tales they tell are all variations of the same story, that of the mysterious and beau¬tiful Magdalena Domingo, who gave birth to a frog-child one spring day long ago, and who, through a series of fantastical circum¬stances, becomes the patron saint of the fic¬titious island of Corpus Christi.

Whether Magdalena was a virgin, a whore, a miracle worker, a ghost, a saint, a suicide – or all of the above – is the source of endless speculation on the island, where she continues to haunt the eerie Maraval Swamp. Her child was equally mysterious.’ Was he the son of the devil? The son of God?…

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THE VOICES OF MYTH

London Times Literary Supplement
By Aamer Hussein

Robert Antoni, the young author of Divina Trace, has his origins in Trinidad, his novel is set in the island of Corpus Christi, and his literary affinities, proclaimed throughout the novel in a web of references and allusions are with Faulkner, Joyce and, to a lesser extent, with Marquez. His deft handling of contradictory narrative strands, his ability to recreate the multiple voices of experience by capturing their exact timbre, and his evocation of a landscape rich with echoes of ritual and legend, all display great virtuosity. His ventriloquistic feats are sustained over 426 pages, as is his story’s compelling aura of fable and mystery, which forms an effective counterpoint to Antoni’s daunting and varied use of Caribbean dialects and Joycean wordplay.

The novel is divided into three sections, with the first and third sections identically constructed in five segments, each one narrated in a different voice, with the order of narration replayed in reverse in the latter, mirror section. The narra¬tors, including an ancient black nurse, represent a cross-section of Caribbean society, allowing Antoni to exploit to the full his knowledge of the different registers of speech and dialect. The dominant voices are those of the Domingo family and their associates; the link is provided by Johnny, Barto’s grandson, whose childhood memories and perceptions echo throughout the novel.…

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UM PROFESSOR’S FIRST NOVEL IS AN ODE TO TRINIDAD

Miami Herald
March 14, 1993
Rafael Lorente, Herald Staff Writer

Born in Detroit, raised in Grand Bahama and of Trinidadian background, University of Miami professor Robert Antoni ties different ethnic voices together in his first novel, Divina Trace.

Antoni, who lives and writes in a pastel-decorated house on Euclid Avenue, , won the 1992 Commonwealth Writers Award for best first book. The prize is given to writers from countries in the British Commonwealth, which includes Canada, the Bahamas, Gambia and others.

Antoni, 34, teaches in the university’s new master’s program in creative writing. Beginning in the fall, he also will teach a graduate course in Caribbean literature.

The book tries to give a voice to all the ethnic groups in Trinidad, where his family comes from, Antoni said. That includes Africans, East Indians and Europeans of Spanish, French and English backgrounds.
Divina Trace takes place in Corpus Christi, a fictional island full of myths and characters taken from Antoni’s childhood. One of the myths is of a boy born half-frog and half- human.

“We have this superstition in the Caribbean that whatever a woman thinks of or sees in the moment of conception will influence the development of the child,” Antoni said.…

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THE FROG-CHILD IN A KINGDOM BY THE SEA

By Gustavo Perez Firmat,
February 2, 1992

ROBERT ANTONI’s first novel is not an easy book to get into. First there’s the story, which concerns the birth of a monstrous frogchild on a fictional island somewhere in the Caribbean. Then there’s the novel’s relentless retelling of this story from the perspective of seven different narrators, including a monkey, a statue, and several members of the Domingo clan, whose patriarch, Barto, sired the “crapochild.” And lastly there is the novel’s overall narrator, Dr. Johnny Domingo, Barto’s grandson, who on the eve of his 19th birthday locks himself up in the family library to make sense of the differing accounts Fastidiously self-conscious, Dr. Domingo has the annoying habit of constantly reminding us just how marvelous and incredible the whole thing is.
If the Domingo saga sounds familiar, you’ve been reading modern Latin American fiction. But there’s more: This is magical realism with an avant-garde twist, as if Garcia Marquez and Joyce had themselves engaged in unholy cohabitation: “Hey day! Hey day! O barbary new world, such monkeys in it! O celebus cultured blackapes! O colubus age angolensis! Frumping you frowfrowing you {expletive} youspeciessuccessful, homonid-pongid divergence-quick, evolve you sacred homosapiens!”

Although this is the kind of writing that sends graduate students into fits of ecstasy (intertextuality!…

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