The Crucifixion

Written by Chris Searle for West Indian Digest on

The Crucifixion by the Trinidadian novelist Ismith Khan - author of the memorable Jumbie Bird - is about a man whose life seems to ‘burst open and explode like a calabash in the sun’. It is the story of Manko, an orphan, a ‘king of saint’ who ‘sees behind the veils that men cover themselves with’. Inspired by a Street preacher who hurls his frantic message like God’s busker at the village crossroads, Manko goes to Port-of-Spain to follow a similar mission. The novel becomes the unfolding of Manko’s relationships in the yard where he stays, particularly the hatred he unwittingly provokes from a young prostitute who lives in the room next to his.

The Crucifixion is a tightly-written, convincing work in the ‘barrack-yard’ tradition, full of the lives and blighted hopes of those at the bottom of the heap who are searching for their own, individual escape routes to tunnel through to the light.

Khan’s use of language is often startling. He switches from the standard English which he uses to push forward the main narrative line, into ‘nation language’ to explore the inner lives and earlier years of the people who brush up against Manko as he seeks to deliver his word in the street, yard or rum-shop.

His life-stories of the pushcart man who was a child-witness to the oil-workers’ strike and Buzz Butler’s great movement of the late Thirties are woven into the novel with all the lyrical strength of the language of real life. Yet they also stand out as works of oral history in themselves, told through the poetic strength of the voice of Trinidad’s underclass: ‘…and night fall on the groun’ like a ball o’silk cotton sailing through the air til it touch the grass and settle there like if it was goin to remain forever.’

The Crucifixion is a finely-constructed and movingly-told novel, the compressed experience of the Caribbean people in search of fulfilment and freedom.