New Book: Review of “Voices of Working Class West Indians”

Glenville Ashby reviews Jerome Teelucksingh’s Voices of Working Class West Indians (2012), which he calls “a literary callaloo—a showcase of Caribbean political history with more than a whimsical and comedic underbelly.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Jerome Teelucksingh [. . .] has proven that his cadence – abrupt and even perfunctory, is able to capture West Indian life with all its fanciful twists, peculiarities, rawness, and unpredictability. As a naturalist, Teelucksingh is fast becoming a marquis narrator.

‘Voices’ triumphs in its historical resourcefulness. Story after story – a collection of 13 classics – ably limns key moments in the islands’ past. The author joyrides from island to island, presenting a people of varying struggles, political ambitions, and shortcomings – yet distinctly West Indian, they are.

[. . .] Time and time again, the spectre of racial politics rears its head, delivered with a dark humour that is annoyingly tantalising. In ‘Voices from St Lucia’, the protagonists Ramjohn and Mahadeo are furious that their friend Sunil, an Indian Christian, does not belong to the ‘Indian’ political party. Says Ramjohn: “Allyuh Indians who is Christians tink dat allyuh better dan we. All dem missionaries came and brainwash yuh ancestors. Allyuh feel all yuh is ah set as big sawatee. Ah sure for de cricket matches at the Oval yuh does support de West Indies team and not India or Pakistan.” [. . .] And in ‘Politics in Guyana’, Cheddi Jagan’s supporters predict a resounding electoral victory, adding, “We did it in 1957 and 1961, and when we finish wit dem Negroes … dey go boil dong like bhagi.”

[. . .] But Teelucksingh changes gears handsomely, mollifying the angst of racial politics, replacing it with vintage West Indian jocularity and bucolic splendour. Miss Phillips, the protagonist in ‘Never Dirty’, is bacchanalia embodied. A Grenadian hairdresser with an unbridled larynx, she counsels a client on how best to rid his hair of lice. [. . .] And again, in that gritty tale, ‘Education in Belize’, a wistful father imparts Indian culture to Sunita, his daughter. Reflecting on Trinidad’s cold, lukewarm relationship with V.S. Naipaul, he argues that the Nobel Prize winner is unappreciated by his countrymen. Tongue in cheek, he offers: “Sunita, you have to understand that Trinidadians have more important things to do. Dey have to spend every minute of the whole year planning fêtes, parties, liming in de rumshop, making Carnival costumes, rehearsing steelband songs, planning protests, organising political parties. Dey very busy. If dey have to honour you … is after yuh dead.”

[. . .] In the end, Voices of Working Class West Indians proves a veritable tour de force – austere, but equally buoyant. It is a gem of a narration – a rare fusion of history, biting social commentary and definitive island humour. Seldom should a reader demand more.

For full article, see http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121021/arts/arts4.html

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