Literature Of The Caribbean, by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert
When I requested this book from the library, I expected it to be a selection of literature about the Caribbean. That would have been at least a potentially interesting book. I have visited the Caribbean off and on since I was a child, going to Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago in 1990, the Bahamas in 1992, St. Lucia in 2017, and Suriname along with Aruba and Curacao in 2018. It may be said at least that I have an interest in its culture and literature, and had this book contained snippets of literature or short stories and poetry from the Caribbean I would have been very pleased. Unfortunately, it did not. The author seeks to critique the writing of white males and generally conservative people and certainly seeks to critique mainstream American and European culture from a postcolonialist, feminist, generally leftist identity-politics obsessed perspective, but the result is that instead of showing the intellectual and moral poverty of the culture she criticizes, she demonstrates her own intellectual poverty in merely adopting the fashionable nonsense of leftist textual criticism without demonstrating that the works she writes about are worthwhile. Perhaps some of them are, but this book’s praise of various books for the reasons it does amounts to an active negative endorsement of these books for me, and makes me less likely to want to read them.
This particular book is a bit over 200 pages and consists of various lengthy book reviews where the author gushes about some Caribbean author for writing in a way that supports some sort of leftist sociopolitical agenda. After a short introduction, the author writes generally glowing essays about the following books: Michael Anthony’s The Year In San Fernando, Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom Of This World, Cichelle Cliff’s Abeng, Maryse Conde’s I, Tituba, Blck Witch Of Salem, Raphael Confiant’s Mamzelle Dragonfly, Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming Of Bones, Zee Edgell’s Beka Lamb, Magali Garcia Ramis’ Happy Days, Uncle Sergio, Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, Mayra Montero’s The Messenger, V.S. Naipul’s The Mystic Masseur, Patricia Powell’s A Smll Gathering Of Bones, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge Of Beyond, and Derek Walcott’s Omeros. The books are praised for their creativity even if most of them are highly derivative works that almost no one has ever heard of and that, in the author’s telling, do not really deserve the sort of praise she heaps on them.
Indeed, the most damning part of this book is the way that the author’s adoption of the language of leftist identity politics undercuts her desire to make the books she writes about appear like timeless classics worthy of being read and appreciated by those who do not share the political or identity concerns of the author or the authors of whom she writes. Had she viewed these books as part of a great conversation within literature that extends to writings by and about Europeans and North Americans in a positive way, they would have been seen in the context of great literature that has enduring value. Instead, the author’s empty and hollow leftist rhetoric only makes these works look bad by association because she likes them and finds so many aspects of leftist identity politics to cheer about them. Had these books been more worthwhile, they would be the kind of book that can be appreciated for their insights, but those who find themselves acting as cheerleading squads for leftist perspectives are not the sort of people from whom literary insights or insights of any kind are going to be found. This is a book that should only be read by those who wish to see it as an act of unintentional self-parody when it comes to the intellectual and moral poverty of leftist textual theory.