I had forgotten how stunning this book is. On this rereading, I found the prologue, on poverty and futility, so poignant and painful that I was minded to desist, and pick up something light and insubstantial instead. I persisted and am rewarded with an engaging narrative of the stories of individuals; the ripening girl destined for whoredom; the vigorous young man seeking to release his energy in warfare; the frustrated artist, with a single annual outlet for his creativity; the outsider, seeking to be seen, to be recognised.
Lovelace is writing about Trinidad, Carnival and its part in the life of the people, Calypso and Steelband, the Black Power Movement of the late 60s. The story is set in Port of Spain around the time I was born, and I feel like I can recognise individuals, not just types. I suspect my parents would find it an accurate representation of the zeitgeist. Some of the stories, I have heard before:
This is the hill tall above the city where Taffy, a man who say he is Christ, put himself up on a cross one burning midday and say to his followers: 'Crucify me! Let me die for my people. Stone me with stones as you stone Jesus, I will love you still.' And when they start to stone him in truth he get vex and start to cuss: 'Get me down! Get me down!' he say. 'Let every sinnerman bear his own blasted burden; who is I to die for people who ain't have sense enough to know that they can't pelt a man with big stones when so much little pebbles lying on the ground.'
I wonder if the material would have been better shaped into a novella, and short stories/sketches aboout the Calypsonian, the Badjohn, the aging Carnival Queen. This isn't a wholly successful novel. Lovelace isn't as polished as Naipaul, but he inhabits his writing, heart and soul. He moves me so much more. Here is the conclusion to the prologue section, Carnival
Now, the steelband tent will become a cathedral, and these young men priests. They will draw from back pockets those rubber-tipped sticks, which they had carried around all year, as the one link to the music that is their life, their soul, and touch them to the cracked faces of the drums. Hours, hours; days, days; for weeks they beat these drums, beat these drums, hammering out from them a cry, the cry, the sound, stroking them more gently than they will ever caress a woman; and then they have it. At last, they have it. They have the tune that will sing their person and their pose, that will soar over the hill, ring over the valley of shacks, and laugh the hard tears of their living when, for Carnival, they enter Port of Spain.
I am not doing Lovelace and his novel justice. But I recommend it highly, to mature readers who appreciate lyrical writing, and do not require a happy ending. It may take some time, as well to adjust to the dialogue which is in Trinidadian dialect.