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BOOKSHELF


As Flies to Whatless Boys, by Robert Antoni (Akashic Books, 320 pp, ISBN 9781617751561)


Meddling with the metafictive, especially in the realms of historical fiction, usually finds most writers tangled up in a yawn-inducing miasma of unresolved plot points, straggling towards nowhere. Not so with Robert Antoni’s latest novel, As Flies to Whatless Boys, which finds sure footing in the coming- of-age narrative of fifteen-year-old William “Willy” Tucker. Accompanied by the other members of his working-class East End London family, Willy’s bound for the new world in 1845: Trinidad’s unknown shores, to be precise. His father, William Sr., has signed up the Tucker clan among the ranks of the Tropical Emigration Society, founded by one John Adolphus Etzler, visionary-cum-charlatan. Etzler’s fantastical invention, the towering Satellite, is meant to reshape the pace and ease of agricultural work in the Caribbean. When the realities of the Satellite’s uses prove more cumbersome than catalytic, it’s up to the newly beached British immigrants to make the best of their dubious circumstances. Willy is less concerned with this than he is with the affections of Marguerite, a high-class beauty


born without vocal cords. The future of their mismatched romance almost seems more certain than the destiny of the new settlers, as they navigate a jungle morass, swiftly succumbing to threats of the “Black Vomit” (yellow fever). Antoni’s skills are manifold in this audacious novel, not least in his melding of historical and contemporary Trinidads, creating a dangerous, alluring anti-Paradise with a careful culling of facts from actual archives: documents, letters, and journalism. It’s


rare to find a book that’s swamped


in the past and at the same time peering towards the present. As Flies to Whatless


Boys achieves this enviable balance by planting a foot in either realm. It brings the travails and small delights of Willy Tucker to the centre stage of our imaginings, asking only that we accompany him on this unforgettable voyage, whether the journey’s end augurs ill or well.


Shivanee Ramlochan, Bookshelf editor


If I Never Went Home, by Ingrid Persaud (Blue China Press, 304 pp, ISBN 9780992697709)


Bea, a Trinidad-born, Boston based professional, wasn’t always a quietly confident therapist: it took a long haul through mental illness for her to land steady on her feet. Similarly, the life of young Trinidadian Tina Ramlogan isn’t smoothly charted: she’s got to contend with serious bacchanal in her domestic milieu. Persaud tells an interwoven, multiple-


perspective coming-of-age story that hinges on these two outsiders, never shortchanging her readers on emotional impact. Many of the novel’s scenes feel pre-formatted for a cinematic tearjerker, particularly those delving into complex issues of holistic mental treatment, domestic secrecy, and parent-child conflict. Rendering home as both an ideal location and a thicket of potential drama, Persaud’s first novel takes deep investigative looks at Trinidadian society, both at its source and in the diaspora.


SR 32 WWW.CARIBBEAN-BEAT.COM


Cruising Life: The Best Stories from Caribbean Compass, edited by Sally Erdle and Rona Beame (Compass Publishing, 217 pp, ASIN B00DO8PHJ4)


Whether you know a topsail from a tourniquet, or a yardarm from yarn, you’ll find something worth perusing in this collection of pieces from Caribbean Compass magazine, which has been providing instructional and immersive news on sea and shore since 1995. The book is divided into sections spanning tales of adventure, humour, and travel,


plus a special cookery segment with seafarers’ favourite dishes in various ports of call. A ghostly sea dog and his canine companions populate a touching anecdote, and one female sailor’s account of arriving topless in Cartagena probably isn’t what you’re expecting. These foam-sprayed encounters with storms, piratical heists, and the seclusion offered on remote islands may prompt even the most devoted land-dweller towards a maiden voyage.


SR


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