‘The Sun’s Eye’, arranged by Anne Walmsley, is a beautiful compilation of poetry and excerpts from classic West Indian novels, that bears witness to the evolution of life in the Caribbean, from the 1900’s to present day. Reading this collection transported me to my childhood, listening to stories on my grandmother’s lap, about when she was a little girl in St Mary. Reader be warned: the nostalgia is intoxicating!
Some stories like ‘An Honest Thief’ by Timothy Callender, left me rolling with laughter, as the two ‘bad men’ in the village went to war over a hand of ripe bananas, while other poems, like ‘Case-History Jamaica’ by Mervyn Morris, in only 17 lines, succinctly explained the impossible task black children face, seeking their identity in post-colonialized Jamaica.
Some of these stories and poems, written over a hundred years ago, surprisingly ring true today. ‘Ascot’ by Olive Senior, for instance, hit on several universal themes that are still issues for Caribbean people today, such as how they portray their Caribbean heritage once they move abroad. Ascot, an outside child for his mother, was a prime example of this. [. . .]
Told in the singsong of Jamaican dialect by the neighbors’ daughter, this story is flush with themes like Attitude to the Past, Attitude to Class, Family and Identity. The poignancy of the writing and the expert way in which the story is crafted, leaves the reader laughing and cringing in equal parts. The characters feel so real, while the awkwardness of the situation is rendered palpable. It is both an enjoyable and painful read.
On the opposite spectrum, poems like ‘Song of the Banana Man’ by Evan Jones, conjure the most pleasant memories for me, personally. I remember having to memorize and recite this delightful poem in school, dressed in my traditional Jamaican bandana. It was a joy to find my way back to it after so many years. ‘Sharlo’s Strange Bargain’ by Ralph Prince, and ‘The Village Washer’ by Samuel Selvon both examine the way Obeah is regarded in small country villages, and the part it plays in shaping village life. This is a strong theme for people who live in the country. Obeah, Duppy, and Rolling-Calf are as Jamaican to me as Ackee-and-Saltfish. The inclusion of these stories gives an accurate depiction of country life, and serves to further validate this collection, in my mind.
‘An Old Jamaican Woman Thinks About the Hereafter’ by A.L. Hendricks, does an excellent job juxtaposing a vulnerable reality with a grand, manufactured image of salvation. “I have looked up at the stars from my veranda and have been afraid of their pathless distances,” has got to be my favorite line. Hendricks uses phrases that perfectly parallel the small, close-knit nature of her existence with the vastness of how she pictures the Hereafter. You can almost see her living her entire life in a two-mile radius of where she was born. [. . .]
Another terrific poem was “Listening to the Land” by Martin Carter. Like many of the excerpts and poems, it alludes to slavery and colonialism. The line, ‘the sea that has no business in the forest’, instantly brought to mind the Middle Passage. This poem was also one of my favorites, because it only needed a few words to cast a looming shadow.
The true stand-out excerpt for me, however, would have to be “Supermarket Blues” by Hazel Campbell. Campbell expertly parallels the plight of three black Jamaican women to expose the red-headed stepchild of the post-colonial era in Jamaica: classism. The three archetypes on display are the poor old lady who survives on remittances from her children living abroad, the well-to-do cultured black woman who’s overworked, self-centered and, due to her travel history and marital status, considers herself automatically better than other black women in the area, and the loud, proud black woman who isn’t above cussin’ you out if she feels the cussin’ is warranted. [. . .]
[Amanda Hanna is a 4xAmazon Best Selling Novelist, Off-Broadway Playwright and Professional Ghostwriter who specializes in Fiction, Historical Fiction and Memoirs.]
For full review, see http://www.loopnewscaribbean.com/content/review-suns-eye-classic-compilation-caribbean-literature-2
The Sun’s Eye
Hodder Education, February 2021
ISBN 978-1398307841 (pb)