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. The two develop an everlasting friendship based on the hardships that each has had to bear. Antoni illuminates their stories through the characters’ letters, diary entries and mysterious conversations with a particular unborn child. This leads to the authenticity of their personality traits and actions and gives a more intimate appreciation of the struggles they experience. Although they are not alone, both women have lived in loneliness since childhood. They have dealt with betrayal, poverty, attempted abortions and alcoholism. They have embraced hope and endured despair – and together, they have made a home.

This story had a lasting effect on me. Antoni uses his own life experiences from Trinidad and the Bahamas to introduce a rich variety of beliefs, cultural traditions and emotions that are unfamiliar to North Americans. He demonstrates the power of faith, the healing strength of bush medicine and the belief in Obeah magic creating a permeating mystical aura. Blessed is the Fruit is the type of rare story that follows you, indeed haunts you, as you go about your middle-class life. If you want to lose yourself in a different world, this novel can take you there. “Improper” English and all, this book is well worth the effort.

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