Aron Smart is orphaned early and brought up by his grandparents who impress on him the virtues of education. When they too die, his only support comes from an anonymous benefactor who turns out to be a white man who was an associate of Aron’s father, a famous pork-knocker (gold and diamond prospector) who supports Aron out of guilt from his responsibility for Aron’s father’s death. But Aron’s education is never completed and while he is always more educated than his working class companions, he remains less educated than the educated middle class and this contributes to his sense of division. After a period working for an Indian doctor and having an unsatisfactory affair with the daughter, Indra, for whom he is always inferior as a black man, Aron follows in his father’s footsteps as a pork-knocker. He is immensely successful and becomes the legendary ‘Shark’, in a wild, untamed world of drinkers, get-rich-quick and lose-it-quick prospectors and the whores who haunt the diamond fields. With one, Belle, there is a relationship of a kind, but his attempt to use his wealth to buy into the middle-class and take Belle with him fails disastrously. Cheated of his fortune, he returns to the interior, mining with a reckless madness that ends in his maiming. He cannot find himself, though he dreams of returning to the life of his grandfather in the solidity of land and farming. Black Midas can be read as Carew’s warning of what might happen in the postcolonial era. The house that Shark buys in Georgetown is so filled for him with the ghosts of its former white occupants that he can never really take possession of it and is condemned to mimic the ways of the former rulers.
Though Shark’s Eldoradean quest ends in grief, on the way there is energy, outrageous sensuality and deeply felt engagement with the Guyanese landscape, particularly of the interior.
Jan Carew was born in the village of Agricola in Berbice, Guyana in 1920
Published: 25 May 2009