Amongst Thistles and Thorns
Set in Barbados in the early 1950s, this is a classic novel of Caribbean childhood with several key features, in addition to the fresh vigour of the young Austin Clarke’s style. It is one of the most angry books on the attempted destruction of innocence and hope by the colonial education system in which savage beatings play a distressing part.
Austin Clarke
ISBN number
Caribbean Modern Classics
Fiction, Novel
Country setting
Publication date
30 Jan 2011

Milton Sobers is nine and on the run from beatings by his sadistic headmaster -- and from his mother when he complains. His adventures over a day and night are nightmarish, sometimes comic, but always painful in what they reveal about the constrictions of race and class, and the damaging constructions of childhood that see boys in particular as unregenerate beings whose intrinsic wickedness must be beaten out of them. Yet we see enough of the boy's sharp intelligence and the power of his dreams to hope that one day he will make his real escape. Milton’s father is in the USA and his stories of Harlem make Milton want to leave Barbados and join him. It is Clarke's indictment of Barbados that the novel sees no future for Milton there.

Set in the early 1950s, this is an uncompromising portrayal of a world where the poor and blackness are despised, and children are used as whipping posts for adult self-contempt and frustration. The novel brings acerbic humour to its portrayal of how Milton's competing "fathers" begin his premature sexual education, and unmasks the way in which phrases such as "robbing the cradle" mask the reality of the sexual abuse of boys. First published in 1965, the novel's anger still simmers, but its portrayal of the attempted destruction of innocence and hope by colonialism and its institutions is coolly clear sighted.

As the excellent introduction by Aaron Kamugisha makes clear, the issues the novel focuses on are far from being distant history.

Austin C. Clarke is hailed as a pioneer of Caribbean-Canadian literature and is one of Canada's most prolific writers.


Austin Clarke

Born in Barbados in 1934, Clarke was educated at Harrison College and became a schoolteacher before moving to Canada in 1955 to study at the University of Toronto.
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