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message 1: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Our first book discussion for 2018 will be a tome by fellow LFPC member Ronald A. Williams, A Death in Panama . His book has 52 chapters and a prologue.
If your like me you may not be much for discussions on the 1st of January so lets start Jan. 3rd.

Reading Schedule:

Jan . 3-10 Prologue - Chapter 9
Jan . 11-17 Chapter 10 - 24
Jan. 18-24 Chapter 25-39
Jan. 25-31 Chapter 40-52 And the entire book.


message 2: by George (new)

George | 759 comments Works for me. I have the book on order but it hasn't come in yet anyway.


message 3: by Mle (new)

Mle | 8 comments I ordered mine randomly on Amazon and lucked into a signed copy. 2018 is coming up Emily!


message 4: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
How do reader's feel about prologues? I have to admit, sheepishly, that I have skipped a few in my life. The prologue here is 5 parts and the longest I can remember. What was your initial reaction? Did that change after integrating it into the story?


message 5: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
The prologue sets the stage for the locations, characters and events that take place throughout the book. The first couple of chapters take place in early 1900's Washington D.C. I had a little timeline confusion at first because most of the prologue action was in present day D.C. but what better place to start than the beginning? Does the historical nature of the first few chapters ring true?


message 6: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Chapters 4-9 take place in Barbados, a Caribbean island in 1905. Not long out a slavery, it seems the characters still have "plantation" social and economic ties and racial stratification's. The white Barnes's control the cane fields and hence the islands economy. Does it make sense for the renegade Rupert Barnes to "slum'" with the beautiful Audrey?


message 7: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
We open the book for discussion up to and including Chapter 24 today. If folks are having trouble getting their hands on the novel I saw it listed on Alibris.com for a very small price. I'm sure that if you DM'd Ron Williams he perhaps could also lead you to a copy for a nice price.


message 8: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
In chapter 10 the concept of "The White Mans burden" (that white Men have the burden of carrying the lesser developed races and societies) was discussed and attributed to a John Speke. I had never heard of him and had always attributed this concept and writing to Rudyard Kipling. Indeed wikipedia also cites Kipling. But I did some cursory research and found that Speke was an Indian and African explorer and writer of some import during his time. I suppose the White mans burden and all its attendant racism cannot be attributed to just one man. That's why I love books. I learn something new with every one of them.


message 9: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
The action in chapters 11 and 12 shifts to Wash. D.C, in the 70's a time when I also resided there. I think I may have been in that lounge where the spooks and Viet vets met in darkened corners!


message 10: by Ronald (new)

Ronald A. Williams | 39 comments Perhaps a highly fictionalized you in an equally fictionalized bar.


message 11: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Well, I can vouch for the fictionalized bar part..lol


message 12: by George (new)

George | 759 comments Or perhaps the actual you masquerading as a fictionalized you?


message 13: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Captain Lemieux, builder of the Canal seems almost consumed by racist thought. It's a wonder he got any work done. He laments the fact that White men don't have the constitution for the menial jobs in the tropics and drop like flies from disease. His second choice, the Chinese are busy building railroads in North America so he's stuck with the west Indians. He can't understand why his white friend Barnes bothers to befriend them and lower himself to their level. Lemieux is quite a piece of work.


message 14: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
The Centron company is described as being so powerful that even presidents could not stand in its way. And that assassination was a routine course of business. Know that in real life, the Exxon corp. has its own private army and intelligence service, and that private companies run our middle east wars, what I first thought was literary license seems a bit more plausible now.


message 15: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Today we open the book for comments from prologue through to chapter 39. Has anyone had a chance to read any of fellow member Ron Williams work? I realized that a large book like this that was not in ebook form might be a tough sell but surely some pages were turned. What did you think?

Did any who may not be reading this book but following along know of this great migration of Blacks, from the islands to Panama to work in near slave labor conditions for most on the Canal?

Thoughts anyone?


message 16: by Ronald (new)

Ronald A. Williams | 39 comments The Silver Men by Velma Newton is good background reading.


message 17: by Nadene (new)

Nadene | 3 comments William wrote: "How do reader's feel about prologues? I have to admit, sheepishly, that I have skipped a few in my life. The prologue here is 5 parts and the longest I can remember. What was your initial reaction?..."

This prologue is very useful. The chapters took me to many places, and among many people, yet the question of what terrible thing happened in Culebra (a name that enhanced the intrigue), and how each person/group of people and place was related to that terrible thing lingered in my mind.


message 18: by Nadene (new)

Nadene | 3 comments William wrote: "Captain Lemieux, builder of the Canal seems almost consumed by racist thought. It's a wonder he got any work done. He laments the fact that White men don't have the constitution for the menial jobs..."

This major sub-story of the novel is quite well crafted but story lines about the misdeeds of powerful White men are not new to literature. The sub-stories of Ruthie and Ruby's sisterhood and the plight of the women left to run the island touched my soul.


message 19: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Nadene wrote: "William wrote: "Captain Lemieux, builder of the Canal seems almost consumed by racist thought. It's a wonder he got any work done. He laments the fact that White men don't have the constitution for..."

Yes, Ruthie and Ruby's sisterhood was a neat twist. Given that it was not spelled out until after Ruthie's rough treatment and dismissal by Ruby, the idea that they could be sisters was far from my mind. But I suppose jealousy and envy can be powerful motivators.


message 20: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
In chapter 21 Romulus is given a bit of a back story that I found quite interesting. That he swore a lifetime of allegiance to the old man and even forswore female companionship for life seemed a bit over the top. But then perhaps that's what made him the superspy and one man army depicted later in the book. And he was not above a bit of onanism in the darkness of the leafy Maryland suburbs to relieve the stress.


message 21: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Chapter 25 takes place in early 1900 Panama. Here the Captain's evil intentions start to coalesce. The men are confined to camp. Only Captain Bryant and Barnes are allowed to leave. The men through intimidation that includes beatings, poisonings, and murder are forced to stay and work. But to try and stem rebellion the laborers are still paid well and promised riches upon the works completion. I'm not sure that being well paid would be enough to keep me working in such an environment but that may be because I'm casting 2018 eyes on a 1908 situation.


message 22: by Nadene (new)

Nadene | 3 comments William wrote: "Chapter 25 takes place in early 1900 Panama. Here the Captain's evil intentions start to coalesce. The men are confined to camp. Only Captain Bryant and Barnes are allowed to leave. The men through..."

William wrote: "Today we open the book for comments from prologue through to chapter 39. Has anyone had a chance to read any of fellow member Ron Williams work? I realized that a large book like this that was not ..."

William wrote: "Captain Lemieux, builder of the Canal seems almost consumed by racist thought. It's a wonder he got any work done. He laments the fact that White men don't have the constitution for the menial jobs..."

William wrote: "In chapter 10 the concept of "The White Mans burden" (that white Men have the burden of carrying the lesser developed races and societies) was discussed and attributed to a John Speke. I had never ..."

I learned of this connection only recently. Sadly, I probably assumed Black Panamanians were descendants of yet another group of Blacks who ended up in the Caribbean, the U.S., or South America, during the 400 year slave trade. Growing up in New York City, I knew many Panamanians. Some were new to the U.S., others were first generation. I don't recall mention among them of Caribbean roots. It's only ~100 - 110 years since the building of the canal and the immigration of Islanders to Panama. Hopefully, that's not long enough for familial and cultural ties to be severed/lost/forgotten.


message 23: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
I was mad at myself when in chapter 31 I found out that Audrey's child was fathered by her uncle. If I had been paying attention about 15 chapters prior when it was revealed that Ruthie and Ruby were sisters, that if Rupert was Ruby's brother that of course he was Audrey's uncle. I felt a little snookered! (Lots of R names there!)


message 24: by Ronald (new)

Ronald A. Williams | 39 comments The cultural ties to the caribbean are pretty strong in Panama. Food, festivals, music are still, to some extent, by the Caribbean. The challenge is the linguistic switch from English to Spanish which creates its own border. Still, when, there, I would leave the intercontinental and head to La Boca to find Bajan food. Groups occasionally come to the islands as well.


message 25: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Ronald wrote: "The cultural ties to the caribbean are pretty strong in Panama. Food, festivals, music are still, to some extent, by the Caribbean. The challenge is the linguistic switch from English to Spanish wh..."

My Spanish speaking Panamanian friend is of obvious African heritage. I never thought to ask if his families journey included a stopover first in the West Indies. Should make for an interesting conversation the next time we meet.


message 26: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
The entire book is now open for discussion.


message 27: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Rupert makes many forays away from the camp and into the surrounding jungle. There he meets the indigenous Indians who seem oddly nonchalant about his presence. He partakes in the almost prerequisite hallucinogens and meets his protector and spirit guide, a fearsome jaguar. Or is it the lovely Liela in disguise? Rupert is described as a pretty feckless and unmoored individual. Not sure why a fair maiden of the forest would fall for this pasty white boy but I suppose a exotic love interest is welcome among all the testosterone of an all male workcamp.


message 28: by William (last edited Jan 30, 2018 09:22AM) (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
Richards was a character I wish I could have seen more of in the story. The laborer whose life was saved by Rupert. One of the only Black islanders to take center stage, I had hoped for more then the inglorious end at the hands of the evil captain his humanity demanded. I thought a neo-slave rebellion under Richards banner may be in the works...alas no such satisfaction.


message 29: by William (last edited Jan 30, 2018 09:17AM) (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
As we close out the discussion, here are some other thoughts and talking points..

Why was Rupert able to walk away from not one but two children?

Was the rape scene real or imagined and therefore Ruperts child his or his imagination.?

Was the "boy" his grandson, the one who put the whole thing in motion?

Was Nestor the CIA agent also his grandson from Liela?

At almost 90- 100 years old would you still be able to carry out a vendetta?

Was the Royal robe of butterfly wings borrowed from the real royal feather robe that still hangs in the museum in Hawaii containing brilliant feathers from birds long extinct?

Was the secret of Culebra a bit anti-climatic given that almost 100 years past and we know that Capital Hill would not be that put out about a few dead Black people from long ago.


message 30: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1249 comments Mod
As Bryant says, "There was never an investigation, never an outcry. Somehow, fifteen thousand people had disappeared and no one had noticed."
I'm glad that our fellow member Ronald Williams wrote this bit of historical fiction so that we could all notice the hardships that our island neighbors endured so that American prosperity could expand. The cost borne by the Black and Brown people of the Caribbean continues to this day reflected in the suffering and poverty in the region. Exposed by the recent hurricanes and the miserable response to them. Perhaps the descendants of those laborers could rebuild those islands with monies owed?

The official book discussion closes tomorrow, the 31st, and I want to thank all that have participated (I probably won't post tomorrow since I've got dental surgery scheduled! Yikes.). But the thread will remain open and if you picked the book up later and want to post feel free to do so.
I also want to thank Ron Williams for standing by ready to answer any of your questions.


message 31: by Ronald (new)

Ronald A. Williams | 39 comments Thanks to you, William, for your valiant effort. I have always liked this novel because it represents my shift away from heavily theme-based writing to plot-based work. At the time of conception of the book, very little was known among the young about this seminal piece of West Indian history, although the concept of "Panama money" was part of the older people's lexicon. Many returned and bought plantations or started businesses with this Panama money. By the 1980s, however, this memory was dying, and I wrote this book, with its melodramatic plot for easy reading, to rekindle the conversation. It did. I remember being on a 3 hour talk show (for which I had scheduled for 15 minutes) answering questions not so much about the book as such but the period it spoke about. It seemed that everyone who called had a relative who had gone, returned, died, disappeared, married " a Panniah (Spanish) woman", or ignored a wife left at home by not returning and not sending support. As I have said, this was the first mass movement of black West Indians from the islands, and it had a profound sociological impact. The ideas of freedom formulated in Panama,and the money gained, created a thirst for equality that would lead to the labor riots in 1937, the true end of slavery and the beginning of the independence movement.
Thanks to all who voted for the book.


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