Here is a marvelous review of Marcia Douglas’s The Marvellous Equations of the Dread: A Novel in Bass Riddim by Louisa Ermelino (Publishers Weekly), who says, “Bob Marley comes back from the dead in a mind-blowing novel that dances to a bass riddim.” This novel was shortlisted for the Bocas Literature Prize in 2017. Here are excerpts from Ermelino’s “Open Book: Every Little Thing Gonna Be All Right for This New Novel.” [Many thanks to Nicholas Laughlin for bringing this item to our attention. Also see our previous post New Book: The Marvellous Equations of the Dread.]
My first piece of 2018 is a feel-good column. Listen to some Bob Marley to get in the mood (I did). And think about feeling lucky, like in those opening lines of the Langston Hughes poem “Luck”: “Sometimes a crumb falls/ From the tables of joy/ Sometimes a bone is flung.”
I’m feeling lucky in this new year to be in this business that brings me together with people like Barbara Epler, Mieke Chew, and Eliot Weinberger to talk about a New Directions book we are all excited about: The Marvellous Equations of the Dread: A Novel in Bass Riddim by Marcia Douglas. Epler is the president of New Directions and Chew is co-director of publicity; Weinberger—an essayist, editor, and translator, most notably of Octavio Paz—is the one who discovered the book, and Douglas, at the 2016 Bocas Literary Festival in Trinidad in April 2016. [. . .]
At the festival, Weinberger kept hearing about Douglas’s novel, which had just come out from Peepal Tree Press in England. (Peepal Tree is the major forum for Caribbean writers, with more than 300 books published since 1985, and where many of the writers Weinberger met at the festival have published, or hoped to be published.) He went to Douglas’s reading and onstage interview, and was “simply knocked out” by this “panoramic novel that takes place on one corner of Kingston, Jamaica, full of characters, living and dead—from street vendors to historical figures like Marcus Garvey—presented in a multiplicity of voices, with a vibrancy of the English language that was new to me.”
I concur. It’s a wildly creative, funny, and immersive book, in which Marley is reincarnated as Fall-down, a homeless man who sleeps in a clock tower in Half Way Tree in Kingston, recognized only by his long-ago lover, the deaf woman Leah.
The book is personal for Douglas, who came to the U.S. to study when she was 19, but came of age in Half Way Tree, which, she explains, is the crossroad in Kingston that separates uptown from downtown, with a clock in the tower that always tells the wrong time: “There’s a square where Jamaicans come together, where politicians come to speak, and it’s a meeting place of different people from different classes. For me, it’s symbolic. When you write a book, part of it comes from history, but most comes from imagination. Leah, Bob’s love, is fictional but comes from women I’ve known, as does the character of Bob. I’ve encountered men like Bob even if I’ve never met him.” [. . .]
[. . .] I ask Douglas, “What is bass riddim?” and she explains that reggae is only as good as its bass, that good reggae has a deep bass, and that, for Marvellous Equations, she imagined a bass so powerful that it could call up the dead, bring back the ancestors. She wanted to write a book that came out of the reggae aesthetic. “And when you think reggae,” she says, “you think Bob Marley.” And when you think Bob Marley, you think Rasta: “Rasta is a mysterious thing, is a thing of the heart,” a street corner character notes in the book. “Some people Rasta and them don’t even know them is Rasta.” [. . .]
[A version of this article appeared in the 01/08/2018 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: “Every Little Thing Gonna Be All Right.”]