As Flies to Whatless Boys
"When in 1845 the German-American inventor John Adolphus Etzler claims to have created a machine that can harness the power of nature to free people from the drudgery of labour, he is met by both scepticism and hope.
Robert Antoni
ISBN number
Historical fiction
Fiction, Novel
Country setting
Trinidad and Tobago
United Kingdom
Publication date
05 Oct 2015

Based on a real historical figure and the actual journey he made from England to Trinidad with the motley crew of followers he recruits in Britain, Robert Antoni’s novel is a brilliant exploration of the persistence of dreams and the individual human stories that underlie Etzler’s quest. In particular, Antoni’s creation of Willy, one of the younger utopians, is a tragi-comic tour-de-force in revealing his contrary impulses—between young love for the sparky Marguerite, loyalty to his family as they discover the life-threatening realities of the tropical paradise, and his fascination with Trinidad and Etzler’s utopian dream.

Not least of the novel’s attractions is the richly comic account of its researching, in the titanic battles between the unscrupulous researcher and the librarian who will protect her photocopier, though not her virtue, with her life. How this prose epic of Trinidad’s history connects to the present is a matter for the reader to deduce – but connect it does, in many satirical ways.

'William’s account of young love attests to Antoni’s fluency in the poetry of nostalgia. In words as vibrant as the personalities he creates, Antoni deftly captures unconquered territories and the risks we’re willing to take exploring them.' – Publishers Weekly 

“Robert Antoni doesn’t make giant steps. He makes quantum—and sometimes hilarious—leaps past whatever we call metafiction to the same territory as Richard Powers and David Foster Wallace. But like those men and unlike nearly everybody else, he never forgets that at the core of it all you’ve still got to tell a rip-roaring story.”
— Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

Robert Antoni was born in the United States in 1958, and he carries three passports: US, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. He draws upon his two hundred years of family history in Trinidad and Tobago and his upbringing in the Bahamas.

Read 'As Flies to Whatless Boys: Memory and Archiving'.

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Robert Antoni

Robert Antoni is equal parts Trinidadian, Bahamian and US citizen. His first novel, Divina Trace (Quartet, 1991), received the Commonwealth Writers Prize, an NEA, and is recognized as a landmark in Caribbean writing. His other books are Blessed is the Fruit (Faber), My Grandmother’s Erotic Folktales (Faber), Carnival (Faber), which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2006, and As Flies to Whatless Boys in 2015 (Peepal Tree Press). Antoni is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and the NALIS Lifetime Achievement Award from the Trinidad and Tobago National Library.
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