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The Ten Incarnations of Adam Avatar

Written by Jeremy Taylor for Caribbean Beat on no date provided

This big and ambitious novel uses the idea of reincarnation to travel through more than five hundred years of Caribbean history. It begins with the first Amerindian settlers in what is now Haiti; then it explores the worlds of a 16th-century Spanish conquistador, a Portuguese slave trader, and 17th-century colonial Barbados. We meet women who become pirates and stickfighters and crusaders against slavery. A black estate owner in 19th-century Trinidad struggles to subjugate an almost-white servant he has bought at auction, a young Indo-Trinidadian fights in World War II, and a contemporary university lecturer teaches students how to think.

All these people are the same person, an avatar (a divine or spiritual being in human form) reborn into a series of different lives. 'He' is sometimes man, sometimes woman; sometimes a wielder of power and sometimes the victim of it; sometimes noble and sometimes wicked. And in each incarnation, he is haunted by a mysterious 'Shadowman' who does not change across the centuries, and who cuts short each life after exactly 50 years. 

These tales of the Caribbean past ask far-reaching questions. How has human life really changed over five hundred years? Is human life becoming less 'wretched'? Are humans using their brains to improve their lives? What dark cosmic forces might we be up against? Does life’s meaning and purpose derive from the epic or the ordinary? Are some people really reborn into new lives? What would the purpose of that be? And, not least, as 'Adam Avatar' slowly reveals his life stories, how can his audience be sure that these are real memories and experiences, not schizophrenic delusions? Is the 'avatar' a true immortal, or a human fraud?

Kevin Baldeosingh is a newspaper columnist in Trinidad, and has already published two satirical novels (The Autobiography of Paras P and The Virgin’s Triangle). Adam Avatar is longer than the two earlier novels put together: it is a radical change of direction, a hugely ambitious and complex novel, and an impressive imaginative feat. There are more questions in it than answers, and the jostling ideas don’t always sit comfortably together; on the whole, the storytelling works better than the philosophising. But it's a book bristling with ideas, its human voices are convincing, and it deserves to be read.

This is a review of The Ten Incarnations of Adam Avatar

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