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Singerman

Written by Keith Jardim for The Caribbean Writer on no date provided

The excellence of Hazel D. Campbell’s short stories lies not only in the bright, robust prose of her third and latest collection, Singerman, but also in her portrayals of the preoccupations of the Caribbean people, race, class, and poverty - how they have cursed the region.

In ‘Don’t Colour Me’, perhaps my favorite in the collection, the curse of the region (George Lamming recently said that no serious writer of the Caribbean can avoid the issues of race and class) is given disturbing clarity. Sara, a young English woman, just another prize in her husband Clifton’s collection (the massive house, the luxury foreign car, the pedigreed dogs), wants to adopt a child she has met at a school where she teaches art to deaf children. Clifton, like so many Caribbean men, expresses his appreciation of women by giving them expensive gifts. It’s the pimp’s idea of love. Campbell has Sara reflect:

‘Sara was wondering what her husband was up to now. He was like a little boy with a big secret, always a sign that he has some spectacular treat in store for her. Like the time he’d bought her the large diamond and ruby ring for her birthday. Just like Charles might give Diana, he’d said proudly. She wore it only on rare occasions and only to please him. He would beam with pride when people exclaimed at the ring and urge her to show off her finger; she would want to die of embarrassment.’

The bond between Sara and the child is real; it’s love (another concern of Campbell), something so lacking in Clifton’s mansion of servants and comforts of every kind. There is the suggestion here that intimacy, real love, is impossible in a situation like Clifton’s and Sara’s. And to say that this story sums up some of the major problems of race and class, of those who have and have not, is an understatement: it sets them aflame. Especially when we see Clifton, so pompous and ignorant, so full of hate for his own people and thus himself, cruelly rejecting Sara’s wish to adopt the child. ‘What!’ he explodes. ‘That little black, ugly, deaf pickney! Never!’ But Sara knows how to say no too.

In ‘Mama Pala’, the sadness, the utter debilitations of poverty come together - fittingly again - against the larger social context. It’s about why the poor are poor and why they remain poor, and why in poverty, only quick fixes are possible, usually accompanied by humiliation. Mama Pala knows this, yet her spirit does not falter completely. She triumphs somewhat by being able to continue to feed her children for a while longer, and by giving them a gift - a television - the monster that will cause them to make even more demands on her in the future. Campbell gives the whole picture.

In ‘Singerman’, inspired mostly by David Rudder’s ‘Haiti’, Campbell, in what many writers would devote a novel to, shows how that island was wronged and how, exotically and mindlessly now, we continue that wrong against ourselves - the entire Caribbean. This story is powerful in its mixture of tale, prose poem, and story effects. From Haiti’s birth it jumps to what appears to be present day Trinidad of useless government and misled citizenry, showing how we still contribute to our own downfall, unable or unwilling to break away from the play of history. Despite a problem I had with ‘Version’, all of these stories are beautifully written, wise, and sweeping in moral concerns.

This is a review of Singerman

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