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Perfected Fables Now: A Bookman Signs off on Seven Decades

In putting together what he says is his last book, Gordon Rohlehr doffs the costume of the carnival figure of the “Bookman”, the recording Satan of the devil band, who walks with the book in which he writes down the names of the damned. And here we have the clue to the fact that along with the serious analysis of Calypso, Walcott, Lovelace and V.S. Naipaul, and the essays of remembrance for those like Derek Walcott, Lloyd Best, Pat Bishop, Tony Martin and others who have made their exits, there is a devilish humour at work. It comes out particularly in an essay that joyfully takes apart the attempts to characterise the Caribbean in any other than its own terms – as a new Mediterranean, for instance – and the subservience of Trinidad’s rulers to the neo-colonialisms of tourism, visiting American seamen and the U.S. embassy. What is often uncomfortable but salutary is to be reminded by the long span of Rohlehr’s observations that problems seen as contemporary were being identified by the nation’s calypsonians sixty years ago.

Author(s)
Gordon Rohlehr
ISBN
9781845234508
Pages
300
Price
Classification
Memoir, Politics, Cultural Studies, Essays, Literary Criticism
Setting
Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Pan Caribbean
Date published
25 Apr 2019

Since the mid-1960s, Gordon Rohlehr has been an incomparable recorder and analyser of Caribbean literature and culture and their intersection with politics. His work on the emergence of Caribbean writing from its colonial shell and his analysis of calypso as the voice of Trinidadian consciousness establishes him as essential to our time as William Hazlitt was to the Romantics in documenting and characterising the turbulent spirit of his early 19th century age. Radical but never willing to compromise his sense of what was fraudulent or power-seeking amongst his fellow travellers, Rohlehr is the best touchstone we have for both what the Caribbean has achieved and of its struggling neo-colonial fragility in the face of the new imperialism of economic and cultural globalism.

Now – though who knows? – in putting together what he says is his last book, Gordon Rohlehr doffs the costume of the carnival figure of the “Bookman”, the recording Satan of the devil band, who walks with the book in which he writes down the names of the damned. And here we have the clue to the fact that along with the serious analysis of Calypso, Walcott, Lovelace and V.S. Naipaul, and the essays of remembrance for those like Derek Walcott, Lloyd Best, Pat Bishop, Tony Martin and others who have made their exits, there is a devilish humour at work. It comes out particularly in an essay that joyfully takes apart the attempts to characterise the Caribbean in any other than its own terms – as a new Mediterranean, for instance – and the subservience of Trinidad’s rulers to the neo-colonialisms of tourism, visiting American seamen and the U.S. embassy. What is often uncomfortable but salutary is to be reminded by the long span of Rohlehr’s observations that problems seen as contemporary were being identified by the nation’s calypsonians sixty years ago.

Rohlehr’s voice is always distinctively personal, though the Bookman has rarely revealed much of himself, but in one of the concluding essays he writes about his Guyanese upbringing from the 1940s to the 1960s in a way that is both funny and sad and gives an understanding of what has shaped his vision.

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