The Crying of Rainbirds

Written by Chris Searle for Liberation on

The Leeds-based publishing house, Peepal Tree Books, has made a genuinely pioneering contribution to Caribbean literature in the books it has published, both in their outstanding quality and the sheer quantity of their output. These books are beautiful artifacts in themselves, with evocative and imaginatively designed covers, always finished in a way which dignifies the creative works even more and gives them a ‘feel’ and look of real distinction which matches their content And all this at a price which is below the mass-published price of contemporary novels - emphasising Peepal Tree’s all-round publishing achievement. From Guyana on the South American mainland to Jamaica, Peepal Tree’s writers come and there is a seminal sense of Caribbean unity about the publisher’s list.

[T]he skilfully-woven stories of the Guyanese writer Noel Williams concentrate on the sense of entrapment within the neocolonial economies on small islands that many of his characters feel in the stories of The Crying of Rainbirds. In ‘Life Sentences’ this frustration rises to a climax as a young man declares: ‘I’ve got to break out, get away, before I’m sentenced to this life’ as he listens to the submission of an elderly man who has found one way to deal with his lost hopes - ‘create for yourself an asylum, and therein shelter your heart’.

The explosion of the joy and pride of small-nationhood felt within Grenada during its ‘Revo’ years is replaced by a tragic emptiness of life expressed by Williams in these stories of Caribbean people ‘washed this way and that like holed coconut shells on the beach.’ There is escape by the ‘great leap’ to the ‘life and leisure of the hills’ engineered by a small group of prosperous commercial dealers and bureaucrats or the illusion of escape from the ‘poverty inside’, made ambiguously real by Zeke’s dive into the sea and passage to Africa.

In Williams’ brilliant final story of a rastaman’s return to his primal continent, the boiled-up urge to find release and return is given mystical and memorable expression: ‘He felt driven, herded, rounded up, penned inside his heart’s bitter walling.’