Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

book discussions > Ronald A. Williams Q&A: A Death in Panama

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message 1: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1248 comments Mod
We are very fortunate to have the author and fellow LFPC member, Ronald A. Williams, with us to answer questions about A Death In Panama. The book discussion/Q&A thread will run simultaneously and Ronald will answer questions as his time permits.

As for the Q&A format, we simply ask that your questions pertain only to the section of the book currently being discussed. This will allow those following the reading schedule - and reading at their own pace - to have a pleasurable reading experience and avoid spoilers.

We want to again thank Ronald for graciously taking the time to answer our questions.

message 2: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1248 comments Mod
Ron, I'll start the Q&A off with this softball.

What inspired/motivated you to write this tale of Panama?

message 3: by Ronald (new)

Ronald A. Williams | 39 comments Hi there. Just got home. First, let me say thanks to everyone for selecting the book. In many respects, that is an excellent way to begin the conversation. The broader motivation was to research a period that was enormously important to black West Indians since, in some respects, it was the first mass movement out of the islands, the initial in-migration being, of course, caused by slavery.

The Panama Canal has lost its hold on the public imagination today, but a hundred years ago, it was not simply an engineering marvel, but a metaphor for the emergent genius of the Americans. France, which had built the Suez canal, had failed miserably in Panama and America, still an emerging power, was determined to succeed. I wanted to capture that.

Also, it is little known that tens of thousands of West Indians dug the guts out of that mountain. That I was also interested in dramatically documenting. With, in some cases, as much as half the male population seeking work in Panama, what emerged was a society of women who then had to fulfill the roles of both male and female. That I wanted to capture.

On a more personal note, my great-uncle, went to Panama and there learned the skills that he would use to become a successful businessman in New York. I also wanted to pay tribute to that.

However, the destructiveness of the labor on the canal was frightening. The death toll, from accidents and disease, horrific. There was a darkness inherent in the work, and this, too, the novel seeks to depict.
I hope that helps.

message 4: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Murtha The building of the Panama Canal is an important episode in my year-long high school World History class. The Suez Canal was a much more straightforward project because it was built across basically flat desert. But the mountainous terrain in Panama was not only a literal killer, but necessitated the construction of a sophisticated locks system that is still an engineering triumph.

message 5: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1248 comments Mod
Ron, did you get a chance to visit Panama to research your book? If so is it as beautiful as a Panamanian friend of mine who keeps goading me to visit says it is?

message 6: by Ronald (new)

Ronald A. Williams | 39 comments I did spend some time there doing the research. Yes. It is a beautiful country. It is true, however, given my interest, I spent most of my time in Panama City, and particularly in La Boca where remnants of the Caribbean community still live, complete with cultural leftovers like foods, etc.
The canal itself is a wonder , and as Patrick indicated above, still very much an engineering triumph. Well worth a visit.

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