Review of Funso Aiyejina’s “Earl Lovelace”

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“The portrait of an icon” is a review of Funso Aiyejina’s Earl Lovelace (The University of the West Indies Press, 2017) by Glenville Ashby (Jamaica Gleaner). Read the full review at the Jamaica Gleaner.

Earl Lovelace needs no introduction. Masterfully original and versatile, his literary work has captivated ­generations. Honoured with ­numerous awards, including Trinidad and Tobago’s Chaconia Medal (gold), the President’s Medal from Pacific Lutheran University, and an ­honourary Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies, his place in Caribbean ­literature is sealed.

Capturing such an illustrious career in a far from ­voluminous publication is no small feat. Remarkably, Funso Aiyejina pulls off the improbable with a vibrant and incisive look at the pivotal ­chapters of Lovelace’s life.

Aiyejina’s lends a providential element to Lovelace’s success. His infirmity as a boy saves him from tedious work and affords him time to read and reinterpret the world. “At about five or six, he contracted typhoid fever; while at the Scarborough Hospital, he was convinced he was going to die … as a result of his susceptibility to illness, his grandparents rarely called on him to perform manual tasks … .” He had “a passport to a life of ease” which “left him free to read”.

Aiyejina peers deeper into the significance of this period: “It is in the process of reading that he discovered details of history that never formed part of the conversations the adults engaged in at home.

“The rituals of belonging would become major motifs in both his life and his writings. This experience inspired in him an insider/outsider complex … “He would later deploy this ­understanding of the creative ­ambiguity/complexity inherent in otherness to construct multi-­visioned and multi-versions to life.”

These ‘rituals’ prove transformative. Lovelace’s exposure to this new world reshaped his identity and philosophy. He drew close to the downtrodden, the marginalised, the oppressed – the salt of the earth and the authentic purveyors of Caribbean culture. “He was exposed to the struggles of the African American, through whom he began to see a counter to the Spanish heritage that he was told was his inheritance from his paternal line,” writes Aiyejina.

Inner Conflicts

He cites Lovelace, “I was ­looking to the black side, and that made the idea of belonging to slaves ­problematic. But having chosen to identify with the side of my ancestry, I had to accept that I belonged to those people called slaves. So there I was, on the one hand, the ‘Spanish’ that had abandoned me and on the other hand, Negro – these people who I was introduced to as slaves.”

As a young man, Lovelace ­wrestled with a fair amount of inner conflict. The separation of his parents, his move to Trinidad from Tobago, a stable setting with his aunt that was cut short when his mother ­subtly coerced him to move back with her, and academic disappointments threatened to derail a life of promise. But it is from Lovelace’s schismatic experiences that his ­creativity sprouted. “The castaway, the alienated, the rebel and the underprivileged would be central to his fictive constructs,” notes Aiyejina.

Despite many challenges, Providence intercedes, as young Lovelace seemed shepherded by an unseen hand. To wit, Aiyejina’s recalls a prophetic scene ­involving a sage and young Lovelace: “One ­blistering afternoon in Earl’s infancy, a wandering sadhu (holy man) had stopped by their house in Toco for a drink of water. On ­seeing their mother with baby Earl, the sadhu had asked to hold him … he looked into the child’s eyes and read the future they reflected… ‘Take care of this child. This child will make you proud. He will be a good man for the world.’”

An accurate prediction if there was ever one. [. . .]

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full review, see http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/art-leisure/20190217/portrait-icon

For book information, see http://www.uwipress.com/books/earl-lovelace

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