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Sunlight on Sweet Water

Written by Phyliss Briggs-Emanuel for The Caribbean Writer on no date provided

Beryl Gilroy is an artist. She wields her pen the way an artist wields a paintbrush. A few firm lines, a few quick strokes, a touch of color here, a splash of color there, precise shading elsewhere, and presto! A portrait in miniature. Gilroy’s vignettes in her collection entitled Sunlight on Sweet Water, do indeed dance like sunlight on the sweet water of the Caribbean or sunlight reflected from Guiana’s numerous waterways. They are pithy portraits of persons, places, objects, and events which allow the Caribbean reader to revel in nostalgia and permit the non-Caribbean a peek into that part of the region that is not dressed up to lure tourists. These short pieces reveal the heart and soul of the area and remind the world that the Caribbean, travel brochures to the contrary, is not just a playground for the idle and not-so-idle rich. The Caribbean is home to those persons who have traveled out, and to those who have remained to keep the hearth burning and the heart alive and well.

Sunlight on Sweet Water does not just evoke the image of dancing notes of sunlight on water; the collection is a woven basket to hold the treasures that Gilroy reveals. Its four parts provide the main frame onto which the smaller strands - the individual portraits - are firmly attached. Within each portrait there are even smaller threads woven over and under and into each other to complete the pattern and texture of the basket which will become the repository of the jewels - the memories which themselves consist of laughter, pain, joy, strife, life, and death.

Every aspect of Caribbean village life is represented in this wonderful work; every character breathes its own vivid existence, and the reader is taken into the pattern and becomes an integral strand of the weaving. Thus, reading these offerings becomes a total experience. ‘The Mail Car’, one of my favourites, is illustrative of the diverse texture of a fading Caribbean way of life. The mail car symbolizes the trips made from country to town riding buses that carried everything from passengers to livestock. The mail car, like those vehicles, is of uncertain temperament, but it performs faithfully under the most extreme conditions, responding to Vivian’s amorous and persuasive coaxing. The mail car serves as an important link between villages, and riding it provides its passengers with a 'ten-cent' tour of their immediate environment, bringing into view quick snap shots of village children at work or play. For the narrator, the children seen from the mail car are the most vivid memories:

'Although I made several journeys in the mail car… I cannot recall a single adult who rode with me or sat beside me. But children come back to me: running, laughing, sauntering children. Some carrying ware, calling cattle, or simply staring as the mail car sped past. Children who looked weak, strong, pathetic or condemned to a life of circular toil. Children who spent each day watching the buses go on the monotonous journey into town.' For these children the mail car brings the only excitement they have into their life. With this and other stories in the work, Gilroy recaptures some of the essence of a time gone by.

This is a review of Sunlight on Sweet Water

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