PEDRO JUAN SOTO
selection from Otra vez el mar
essay on V.S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River
ROBERT D. HAMNER
EDWARD K. BRATHWAITE
V.S. Naipaul's Finding the Center
John Holm, ed. Central American English
Paule Marshall's Reena and Other Stories
Michelle Cliff's Abeng
Volume I, Number 2, 1984
Sargasso, a literary magazine published two times a year
at the University of Puerto Rico, publishes critical
essays, interviews, and some short stories and poems.
Sargasso particularly welcomes material written by the
people of the Caribbean and/or about the Caribbean.
Sargasso strives to make current studies in literature,
language, and culture accessible to non-specialists.
The prose should be clear, lively, and understandable
to those not among the initiate. Essays and critical
studies should conform to the style of the MLA Handbook.
Short stories should be no longer than 2,500 words in
length, and poems should be kept to no more than twenty
to thirty lines. All correspondence must include S.A.S.E.
Department of English
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 00931
Lowell Fiet, Editor
Janet Butler Haugaard, Co-Editor; Book Review Editor
Thomas Sullivan, Co-Editor
Aileene Alvarez Stella L6pez
Diana Gonzalez Edwin Maldonado
Ada Haiman Jean Marie Nieves
Myrsa Landr6n Minerva Santos
The editors wish to acknowledge, with gratitude,
the support of Don Jorge Demaris, President of Executive
Search Associates, and Professor Alma Simounet de G6igel.
Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the
individual authors and are not necessarily shared by
Sargasso's Editorial Committee.
Initial responses indicate that the first issue of
Sargasso was well received: apparently the journal serves
the purpose of filling a gap in the broadening field of
Caribbean Studies. The publication of the current issue
comes nearly two months after our original projected mailing
date. As a fledgling journal that operates on a shoestring
budget, Sargasso's funds for printing are always scarce,
and we need more subscriptions to guarantee that publication
deadlines can be met. We also need more first-rate material
to print. The submissions received from poets and short
story writers have been of a high quality--this applies as
much to what we have published as to materials we have not--
and we hope that the number of creative submissions continues
to grow. However, we definitely want to publish more critical
studies. Strong essays that analyze aspects of Caribbean
literature, language, and culture should be the heart of
Sargasso, and the Editorial Committee is particularly anxious
to consider more submissions from scholars and critics.
Although we tried to be as meticulous as possible, the
first issue of Sargasso included some oversights and omis-
sions. Two in particular require comment. A note should
have indicated that Lizabeth Paravisini's "Luis Rafael Sanchez
and Norman Mailer: Puerto Rico and the United States as
Heard on Radio" had first been presented in a somewhat dif-
ferent form at the annual convention of the Speech Communica-
tion Association of Puerto Rico (December 1983). Also, the
holographic title of the poems by Edward Kamau Brathwaite
was misread and incorrectly printed. Mr. Brathwaite's poems,
under the correct title of "Jah Music," are reprinted in
I also want to take this opportunity, on behalf of the
Editorial Committee, to thank Dean Rosa L. V61lez de Valencia
of the Office of Academic Affairs of the University of
Puerto Rico for her assistance in facilitating the publica-
tion of this issue of Sargasso. Ms. Olga Rivera and the
staff of the Copy Center in the Office of the Dean of
Administration deserve special mention as well.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Rosa Luisa Mdrquez: Pedro Juan Soto:
Concomitances (Interview) .............. 1
Reinaldo Arenas: (selection from)
Now the Ocean .... ..................... 17
Clare Goldfarb: V. S. Naipaul's Narrative
Art: Salim in A Bend in the River .... 22
Kevyn Arthur: Poems ........................ 38
Andrew Hurley: Some Onces Upon A Time....... 42
Robert D. Hamner: Poem ..................... 46
Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Jah Music (Poems).. 48
Myrsa Landr6n Bou: V. S. Naipaul's Finding
the Center: Two Narratives ........... 55
Joan M. Fayer: John Holm, ed. Central
American English ....................... 58
Stella L6pez DAvila: Paule Marshall's
Reena and Other Stories ................ 60
Daisy Santos Guzmdn: Michelle Cliff's Abeng. 65
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS ........................ 67
TABLE OF CONTENTS, Sargasso Volume I,
Number 1 (1984) ................ ........ 69
PEDRO JUAN SOTO: CONCOMITANCES
(Interviewer's Note: The interview took
place on a Saturday afternoon in October 1984
at the home of Pedro Juan Soto and Carmen Lugo
Filippi in Barranquitas--a town in the
mountains of Puerto Rico. Traveling from San
Juan to meet Pedro Juan and Carmen were the
Barbadian novelist George Lamming, Sargasso's
editor, Lowell Fiet, and myself. What started
as a sunny afternoon soon produced torrential
rains, yet that did not dampen the spirit of
the interview. Pedro Juan's playful cursing
has nothing to do with the downpour, and our
conversation remained light-hearted and pleasant
Pedro Juan Soto is one of Puerto Rico's
most distinguished novelists (he is also well
known as a journalist, short-story writer, and
dramatist). Some of his best known works are
Spiks (1956), a collection of stories about
Puerto Ricans in New York, Usmall (1959), a
novel that focuses on the island of Vieques (a
Puerto Rican municipality used by the U. S.
Navy for target practice) and the violent
conflicts inherent in colonialism, Ardiente
suelo, fria estaci6n (1961; Hot Land, Cold
Season), the story of a young Puerto Rican's
problems when he returns to the island after
several years in New York, and Un oscuro pueblo
sonriente (1982; A Dark, Smiling People),
winner of the prestigious Casa de las Americas
award in the same year it was published.
Some notes and sound effects have been
integrated into the interview in order to
clarify specific references and establish the
appropriate mood for the re-creation of the
original conversation. R. L. M.)
Rosa Luisa Mdrquez: What language do you want to do
this in? It's your decision.
Pedro Juan Soto: No.
RLM: The interview will eventually be in English.
So if you want to do it in English . .
PJS: I hate translators. I'll do it in English.
RLM: We'll start with the first question then.
Would you speak about the influences you have
felt from other people in your field? Who are
the writers you most like to read and who you
feel have been most influential in your develop-
ment as a writer?
PJS: Speaking about influences is bad for me because
I'm pretty frank. I have no "hairs on my
tongue." And I used to--and I still do--steal
from others. I've stolen from--not knowing
(Thunder) it--George Lamming. I find coinci-
dences. That has nothing to do with influences.
It has to do with traditions. In the Castle of My
Skin  impressed me a lot. I didn't dare
to steal from him then because I had started
somewhat earlier, as far as short stories are
concerned, and I did migration and all that.
But I've stolen from everybody. And I find now
that dealing with this study on [Joseph] Zobel
and [Edouard] Glissant ["La novela de aprendi-
zaje en las Antillas: Zobel, Glissant, Gonza-
lez, Soto," a paper delivered at the Seventh
Caribbean Encounter sponsored by the Department
of Languages and Literature at the University
of Puerto Rico.] that we have many things
which correspond, things which I call concomi-
tances, concordances, because of the habitat
we share together in the islands.
But I've stolen from everybody and his
aunt. I like Graham Greene very much because
he keeps me going from one page to another,
something which I've always aspired to do.
Graham Greene, Faulkner, who is the opposite
of Hemingway, who is so concise, so precise,
so abhorent of adjectives. I dealt with that
a long time, and then I shifted to the very
garrulous Faulkner. I stole from him. Mention
an author and I'll tell you what I stole from
him too. I don't give a damn.
RLM: Have you stolen from Puerto Rican literature?
PJS: Sure, sure. When I started writing--that's in
the prologue I wrote to Jose Luis Gonzalez's
Veinte cuentos y Paisa [19731--while I was
doing journalistic work in 1948, I was very
impressed with Gonzalez's El hombre en la
calle. But I detested his approach to New York--
dealing with Puerto Ricans. He had written
seven short stories and only one or two dealt
with Puerto Ricans. So I wanted to reverse the
trend, to deal only with New York and Puerto
Ricans. I then proclaimed myself the author
who should speak about Puerto Ricans in New
York. And therefore you set yourself some
objectives, some metas, and you go at them
however you can. Sometimes you have the
talent to be a good thief; sometimes you have
no talent as a thief.
Lowell Fiet: You mentioned New York. Maybe we can pause
there a second and bring up the entire topic
of New York. Spiks  is an impressive . .
PJS: I hate adjectives.
LF: It seems to me it is a violent work, in some
senses, yet the scenes from New York are
portrayed with incredible affection. What do
you feel is the influence of New York--the
New York experience--on your entire production
as a writer?
PJS: Well, it faced me with violence. I was a
nincompoop, eighteen years old. (Kikiriki) I
didn't know what it was all about. I went
there to do my university studies, my bache-
lor's degree at that time. And I was flabber-
gasted by the prejudice, and it shocked me so
much that I had to do something. I've never
been able to overcome that. As a matter of
fact, I stayed away from New York for ages--
ten, twelve long years--I couldn't face it
again: the many prejudices, the many chastise-
ments I saw there. I eventually consoled my-
self. But I had been doing things here, and I
felt proud of it because most of us usually
travel and stay out of the country. Even
though . and I'm sorry I blame the other
Antillean authors, they stay away from the
country. They don't go back to make that
country valuable in terms of what a particular
author concerned can do for a country. They
stay away and I decided I had to come back in
order to put back into my country what I had
gained elsewhere. And I think that should be
LF: That also influences your approach to language,
does it not?
PJS: Oh sure. I had a lot of trouble for a long
time dealing with my recognition of myself as
far as the loss of language is concerned. I
started to write in English really. I did
journalism in English initially. Then I
protested against myself, against my own
tastes, and I went back to study my Spanish
grammar, which nobody had taught me until
then. So I had to fight for my own being as
far as linguistics was concerned. And then,
of course, I spoke and I learned a lot from
RLM: But you said you found violence in New York.
You hadn't experienced violence in Puerto Rico?
PJS: No. No. I was living in a village, really a
slum, called La Puntilla in Cataio, and I grew
up there. But I had acquired some experience
selling lottery tickets and learning how to
create a good story. I used to engage in long
conversations with all kinds of matrons and
grandfathers and I wrote them out. They
start talking to you and you listen. And you
feel in your own innermost being what the
hell he is trying to convey to you and how
you are going to convey something in exchange.
That's the way I learned to write short stories,
or write any stories: talking to people,
conversing with them, and listening, most of
all listening. I have a very good ear and I
developed it that way, because otherwise I
could have never done that. But you have to
work on it. You have to have a background to
do that. And these long talks were valuable
to me, teaching me many resources I didn't
LF: The return from New York, what comes out in
Hot Land, Cold Season , was that your
own experience? Did you feel like that when
you returned from New York?
PJS: Every damn novel, every damn story, is strict-
ly autobiographical. You change things in
order to divert the attention of the reader.
But you're dealing narcissistically. But yes,
I faced that. I faced the fact that they were
always criticizing me (and that was many
people, Ren6 Marques, Francisco Manrique
Cabrera), saying "you are from over there,
you're not from here." And in order to prove
that I was from here I wrote Usmall ,
wherein I developed an historical . '. a
feeling about history pertaining to Vieques
and not Puerto Rico. But it is concomitant
in that respect. And I detested that always,
and they saw that I detested it and they knew
because I insulted them. There were always
complaints: "you're from there, you haven't
left there. What do you call life? What do
you call life?" My detesting that made me
continue to work in order to prove myself to
myself, not to them or anyone else, but to
myself. I was out, I'm sorry, I was out
during what they called crucial years--the
Nationalist rebellion , the inauguration
of the Commonwealth --and I didn't feel
guilty about it. I have faced that feeling
again, defending people like Pedro Pietri,
people who write in English. "Who the hell
are you to criticize them because they write
in English!" They are colonial subjects and
they had to learn. They had to, as they used
to say, pull themselves up by their own boot-
straps to learn. "Who the hell are you? Did
you do anything about that? You didn't do
anything. So why do you criticize them for
writing in English?" They can write on any
subject--they keep being Puerto Rican.
RLM: Let's return to the experience of violence.
I see that reality very clearly portrayed
in El huesped [The Guest], where you speak
about a violence that is learned in New York.
But I think times have changed and that
experience does not only come from there. We
are generating our own violence.
PJS: Oh, of course, of course.
RLM: Does your new literature reflect the violence
that emerges from the homeland?
PJS: I think that I was born out of violence and
that's a "leit motif" throughout my literature,
be it essay, be it novel, short stories, plays.
I've never denied that. I think I am a
creature born of violence, and I continue to
be violent but disguised in order to not get
LF: But you're a gentle man, easy to talk to . .
RLM: . and sometimes you're not so gentle . .
PJS: That's a disguise! (Laughter)
RLM: That's theatre.
PJS: That's another disguise. I have a theory, a
long essay, the draft of which I haven't
finished yet, of the author being an actor.
And he constantly disguises himself in order
to collect all sorts of lies which may reveal
some truth. So that he's everyman, he's
RLM: That brings me to my main question. You have,
that I know of, one theater piece and one piece
that has become theater, which is Spiks.
PJS: Two. There's another one called Las mascaras,
.which I detest.
RLM: Why don't you write more theater?
PJS: Now look, there are too many intermediaries
in the theater and I hate them all. And to
put across one idea I have to deal with the
light technician, the director, the actors,
and what not. And I hate that. I am my own
man. I do things by myself through writing.
RLM: But that can also happen in the reading
process. My interpretation of one of the
miniatures of Spiks was completely different
from the idea you wanted to convey. In that
sense, as a reader I'm another intermediary
because I'm decoding in terms of what I bring
into the experience.
PJS: Sure. You have that right . a secondary
right, not the primary right.
RLM: But I'm distorting what you want to say because
my experience is different from your's.
Doesn't that negate your arguments?
PJS: Yes, there are always . I may say the moon
is black and maintain that for two weeks, and
then after two thousand years I'll decide that
the moon is not black but blue. I have a right
to do that. I have that right to contradict
myself besides. But concerning a medium like
theater, which is the same somewhat as script
writing for the movies, I find that there are
too many people who can interfere with the
idea that you're trying to get across. There
has to be some kind of accord with your director
in the theater or in the movie business that
everything is subject to and that nothing can
go beyond. Otherwise it's a shambles. Others
might do it for money. I won't do it, ever.
I have to believe in it.
RLM: But you have written for the theater. Why?
PJS: I have written for the theater, for movies, and
all of that because I never forbid myself from
intervening in any damn genre that exists. I'll
do it even in poetry. I did it when I was
eighteen (I burned them all) and I threaten
to do it again eventually. I'll do it, I'll
do everything. I don't have any inhibitions
left. The only thing is the "moves" [la movida].
The theater here was in the hands of the
Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. I dealt
with them. I suggested several ideas about
commissioning works dealing with the different
genres. I suggested this to Piri Fernandez and
Ricardo Alegria. Let's commission, say one
hundred, two hundred dollars: "you are
commissioned to write a theater piece for the
next festival." They never listened to me.
LF: But, for example, when the Puerto Rican Travel-
ing Theater in New York mounted Spiks, did you
see it, did you have an interest in seeing how
those stories were translated into a different
PJS: No. I saw it when they played it here at the
university. I was away when Spiks was done
by Teatro del Sesenta [a San Juan theater
company]. I never saw it. I read the scripts.
I disregarded several things which deserved
some criticism from me. I played like crazy
[me hice el loco]. I am willing to intervene
in any damn genre. I don't have qualms about
that except for bringing off any project, and
for that I want people with a certain amount of
seriousness, a certain amount of vision, of
responsibility. That's all I want because,
first of all, I demand that from myself.
Then I can demand it from others.
RLM: You mentioned previously that you juggle
fiction and reality in everything you do.
How much fiction, how much reality, how do
you decide when you are writing?
PJS: I don't decide. I think the work itself demands
it from me, and it's for me to play the doctor
or the pharmacist, or something like that, who
gives a certain dosage of this or that. And
you test it on your tongue and you know, you
know, if it's good or it's bad.
George Lamming: On the question of influences, there
are two types. You were speaking largely
about literary influences, of books you may
have read, and so on. But what about the
other kind of influence; that is, that writers
are often shaped by an influence that has not
to do with literature. What are the influences
in society as lived; that is, influences of
particular events, particular personalities in
your life that have left a mark, that are not
PJS: Well, I think that most of all, as I said
before, slum-dwellers have influenced me a
lot. Slum-dwellers not only in Catafo, my
home town, but in New York. I used to speak
with them a lot and hear their complaints.
They speak to try to reach you, and you,
after all, have to be sort of an echo chamber.
His voice is coming through you. You have
to, to a certain extent, to a great extent,
be influenced by his living, his pains, so
that you try to become . and I said this
before, as far as New York was concerned, that
*after perceiving so much violence someone
should talk about it. I went into that and
it fit for me, and I did it again. Every
damn writer is always writing only one book.
His failings are bound for the future edition
of another book. But it's the same old book.
No matter how many volumes you accumulate,
it's only one book. And you pursue that no
matter how many forms or techniques you
LF: We're back to violence. And it's interesting
that you talk about the violence you encountered
in New York. And that's a violence that's
imposed upon people who emigrate to New York
and become ghettoized, become slum-dwellers
there. There's also violence in Usmall. .
PJS: . and there's violence in the life of my
LF: Does it come from the same source? The prin-
cipal source of violence in Usmall comes from
the presence of the Navy in Vieques. Is there
something here, then, saying that the violence
that comes in the Puerto Rican reality comes
from the colonial experience?
PJS: Yes. To start with, you have a colonial system
that pushes you into killing yourself . .
you kill your brother. And that's good for
them. There's one less, at least. And that's
an arrangement that you work out for them. I'm
against that kind of violence, but we face it
constantly. We've faced it since 1898, after
the [U. S.] occupation. We faced it before,
during the occupation of Spain. Since 1898
it's always been the same old thing. Nothing
changes, it's monotonous. And that's why you
have many critics saying, "Oh, Puerto Ricans,"
--and I dealt with that when facing Lloyd King
[chairman of the Spanish Department at the
St. Augustine Campus (Trinidad) of the Univer-
sity of the West Indies]--"all Puerto Rican
novels seem to be the same because they are
fighting the same damn thing, the colonial
system, and they are sometimes too obvious."
And I agreed. That depends on talent or no
talent. You can divert, you can do many
things disguising your tracks, but you have
the same situation. It's monotonous. It's
oppressive and we complain and step out of
character sometimes. But you know you have
to go back and do it again, and again, and
again. How you do it, depends on talent.
(Interviewer's note: The next group of
questions deals with what is known in Puerto
Rico as the Cerro Maravilla incident. In
July 1978, police entrapped and killed two young
supporters of Puerto Rican independence,
claiming that they were terrorists intent on
blowing up communication towers on Mount Cerro
Maravilla. One of those killed was Pedro Juan
Soto's son. Public hearings have since es-
tablished that the youths carried no explosives
and died after they surrended to police.
R. L. M.)
RLM: You were dealing about a year ago with the
novel on Cerro Maravilla. And you were ex-
amining two approaches, one that was journal-
istic and one that was abstract. That leads
us back to the themes of violence and of
fiction and reality. Have you chosen one of
PJS: Yes, I chose both. I dealt with it along the
journalistic road. I've been doing a diary
on that since '78. But I think that any
journalist can do that. Not better than I
can, but he can compete. (Laughter) Well
I've put it aside and I've been going through
the abstract, dealing with a circus, a circus
that is near bankruptcy, dealing with two
strange . I interchange names, sometimes
they are beasts, sometimes they are strays,
sometimes they are just animals. They are
captured by this circus in order to attract
the attention of the public in a small country,
and the captors get away with it. They kill
them at the end. I'm struggling with that.
Every damn writer grows from day to day,
and I've found out so many things I'm ashamed
to even print them. On this particular novel
I did seven starts. None has satisfied me
and this does not satisfy me either. So you
constantly repent from having started some-
thing that you don't know how to finish. And
my last idea was, "Look, I'll just do this
RLM: But the essence of your talk at Tony's Place
[an Old San Juan cafe-theater where Soto
spoke in December 19821 was that reality had
turned into bad fiction.
PJS: Of course it's pretty stereotyped. Yes, I find
myself facing things which are not good even in
a bad movie. This [Maravilla] occurs at noon,
everything is plotted, everything ideally
established, and I find too many stereotypes,
too many cliches, I hate them. And then I
decided to go into this circus business and
got tired of that too. And sometimes I find
that, well, that my son deserves a good piece
of work, literarily good, but, at times, I
don't know if I can do it, because other eyes
are upon me, and I don't mean the police or
that, no, no. I mean having done a certain
amount of work, some good, some less good,
they expect the most, and I don't know if I
can do it. I don't know if I can do it because
it's a big challenge for you to deal with your
own suffering and then write it down. (I
remember a good work of Emile Zola. He did
something on Matisse, it's called The Master-
piece, and in his diary I found that he
criticizes him because while his child was
dead, he was dissecting that cadaver as a
visual experience. And he challenges me to
whether I can do it or not.) I don't know
if I can do it. After I published a fragment
of one chapter, many people came to me and
said that I could not deal with it, that some-
body else should do it. I say, why the hell?
I have my own rights. Why the hell should
anybody else do it? But that doesn't stop
me from being challenged by it.
RLM: Are literary concerns very important in this
work or are you satisfied with the testimony
of an experience?
PJS: I think I can do a book of testimony simul-
taneously; that does not exclude the other.
I can do two or three works of fiction, but
the reality is different. (Thunder) The only
thing that stops me from dealing with this
testimony business is, well, you don't know
how it is going to change. They keep going
with these vistas [hearings] on television.
I don't know how it will turn out and where I
can cut.It would be an extensive book and I
hate extensive books. I wrote one, Un obscuro
pueblo sonriente--I hate it-- I was going to
throw it into the [waste] basket. After many
years revising, I couldn't read it. I hate
long books. And this will be a short book,
preferably two hundred pages, two hundred pages
at the most for the fiction. The other is too
extensive. Where do you cut: at three years,
LF: But it's the extensive book that has the
recognition, for example, of Casa de las
PJS: Yes and no, yes and no. As a matter of fact,
I'm beginning to hate reading, and I find that
that has grown out of my students. They hate
long books and I'm beginning to know what they
mean. (Laughter) I'll do it in two hundred
or three hundred pages at the most, and even
three hundred is pretty obsolete.
LF: How do you see yourself in relation to other
Puerto Rican and Caribbean writers?
PJS: I won't say that I've talked with them all,
but I've been in contact with them. I feel
much affinity with them and I have learned
from them. They have learned from me, I find
myself proud to say. Regarding Puerto Rican
writers or any writers, the only one who
impresses me too much on the bad side is
Naipaul, even though he's a damn good, a
damn good writer. But as far as denying
his roots, I can't conceive that anybody
can say "I hate what I was born," even though
you may feel that. But being that eloquent
about it and at the same time that, how shall
I say it, that . parasite: he hates the
place he was born but he's making money out
of that and art out of that hatred. He's
nostalgic and I hope he will come to terms
RLM: But your main character in Usmall also hates
his roots . .
PJS: Oh, yes, no, no, no . .
RLM: . and he's justifiable as a character.
PJS: . you can deal with characters like that.
RLM: Not with human beings?
PJS: No. You can split your personality whatever
way you want. No, no. What I mean is as far
as confessing, "I hate my country and my
people." I don't know how you can do that.
LF: That leads us to another question, which is
simply that any Caribbean writer has to live
somewhere on the margin between the first
world and the third world. In Puerto Rico
particularly, because in Puerto Rico these
two worlds are in friction all the time. The
question is how do you define yourself ideo-
logically when confronted with the situation
of your own marginality, trapped between the
third world and the first? (Coqu!)
PJS: I've never had any qualms. That all depends
on where you want to place Puerto Rico. I
think it's pretty third world and I've always
dealt only with Puerto Rico. Of course, I'm
addressing myself to an audience that is not
exactly Puerto Rican. At times I've thought
that I've failed, that I haven't been able
to reach my own people because of the bad
system of education, for one thing. Some-
times I find that I'm throwing words into the
wind, that I'm not reaching my own people.
But I must say, concerning Puerto Rican
literature, that we have dealt with many
things that are sort of predictions for Latin
America and most of the Antilles. We've been
there before. We've suffered that before.
Now it's coming to Nicaragua, and has come to
Mexico--and they don't recognize that-- and
it's due everywhere in Latin America, at least,
and eventually all over the world. We've been
RLM: Do you think television could help in solving
the problem of access to a wider Puerto Rican
PJS: As I said before, I am not at all against
dealing with all kinds of experiments; not
only the theater but television and the movies
are new things that I wish I could deal with.
I haven't had the chance, except fragmentally
as far as material for education is concerned,
which I find pretty simplistic. I would like
to deal with something else but I have not had the
chance. We have no money to do that, and we
have had no aid as far as that's concerned.
When I say "we" I am not speaking about myself
but about all Puerto Rican writers, or Puerto
Rican workers in the theater and in the movies.
LF: One final question, and that's about Puerto
Rico and its relation to the rest of the
Caribbean. Is it possible to consider your-
self a Caribbean writer, or do you see your-
self more in terms of the Hispanic tradition?
Is there a new definition that makes you or
Puerto Rican writers in general more Caribbean
PJS: Every damn writer worth his while is always
dealing with society, and that society can be
as particular as Puerto Rican society or it
can be as universal as the rest of the world.
But you address . I at least address my-
self to one reader and this abstract reader
is myself. He has to have the curiosity
that I have, he has to have some knowledge
of what I have, and I address myself to that
one reader. I don't care about other readers
at that moment--that's in the abstract--and I
try to do as well as I can with whatever
little talent I may have in order to reach
that one. If I reach one, that will, if it's
good enough, percolate, to use a favorite word
of Lamming's, and saturate. But it will be
really slow because you know the function of a
percolator . .
Rosa Luisa Mdrquez
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, P. R.
REINALDO ARENAS: FROM NOW THE OCEAN
(Reinaldo Arenas' Now the Ocean
[Otra vez el mar], translated from the Spanish
by Andrew Hurley, will appear in a Viking/
Penguin edition in 1985. As a whole, the novel
represents the transcription of the often erotic,
apocalyptic, and politically provocative dreams
and musings of a Cuban poet and his wife as
they spend a six-day vacation at the beach as
a reward for contributions to the revolutionary
society. The excerpt which appears below forms
part of a much longer verse sequence, and the
voice is that of Hector, the poet. Sargasso
is indebted to Mr. Arenas, Viking/Penguin,
and Andrew Hurley for allowing us to print
this brief portion prior to the novel's
is the consequence of a traditional and well-established
hypocrisy. If man had the courage to speak the truth
at the moment he feels it, face to face with that person
who inspires or provokes it--when he talks, for example;
when he looks at you, for example; when he humiliates
himself, for example--(for it is then, at that very
moment, that one feels how much one suffers or is
inspired); if man had the courage to express day-to-day
beauty or terror in his conversation; if man had the
courage to say what is, what he feels, what he hates,
what he desires, without having to shield himself with a
riddle of words saved for later; if he had the bravery
to express his unhappiness in the same way he expresses
the desire for a soft-drink, he wouldn't have had to
take refuge, seek shelter, justify himself, behind the
secret, heart-breaking, and false confession which a
book always is. The sincerity of one voice speaking
to another has been lost--Did it once exist? We are
ashamed to express the revulsion (or temptation) which
the unknown produces in us. Out of cowardice (in those
places where the law fosters imbecility) and out of fear
of ridicule (in those places where tradition imposes
stupidity) we make compromises with the here-and-now,
and then, secretly, in fear and trembling, ashamed,
embarrassed, we attempt to make up for the betrayal of
our life: We (traitors) write the book. Thus the
expression (the manifestation) of beauty has been left
to pages and letters, dead hours, moments of respite.
Feeling pity, joy, terror, longing, rebellion, is
circumscribed within the writing of a text which may be
published or censored, which may be burned or sold,
catalogued, classified, or ignored. And so the real
man (the man who still feels remorse) feels himself
obliged to scribble over thousands of sheets of paper
so he may leave witness that he was not just another
shadow that choked down his old unease and sensibility
with sighs idle chatter, and base sensation.--Is
every work of art then an act of remorseful rebellion
against original betrayal? And is every man who does
not leave the testimony of a work of art a traitor
unreborn? Is every work of art then the brazen,
beautiful invention with which a coward tries to justify
himself? Is every work of art then the payment of an
old debt a man bears to the truth but which he dares
not assume every day? Plenitude, the moment of
inspiration, the poem's arrival--what are they? Perhaps
the worn-out boasts by which a timorous person, yet now
invested with temerity, would rationalize his simple,
splendid, and stereotypical human condition.
The age of Pericles,
the feasts of Dionysus.
passing by imperturbable.
The divine hours
and the painstaking preparations
for going to see tomorrow the last 4 tragedies
of the intimate of Herodotus.
The tears of Antigone among the muted whisperings
of the earth.
The caresses, the prints of naked boys on the
beaches of Khios.
Elms beside the river.
Walks through venerable spots
or the chance of a delicious, disorderly encounter on
the paths of Decelia.
Everything, everything, is it all no more, then,
than a false, glittering invention
with which disconsolate men have forever
tried to allay their uncertainty?
Is nothing, nothing any more than the cozy,
place always invented
by men who loathe the place that is?
The last swimmers abandon the shore. The
brief opulence of sunset crowns the prickly wings of
hungry birds. The rustling of leaves is now an
honorable sound. They all return. The oleanders
infuse time. The day's last brightness plays among the
trees and over the arms of the chairs that someone
(gaily) drags towards the ocean.
This is the moment when things are gathered
up and the burgeoning of time breaks the rhythm of
breathing. This is the moment when, if we lean our head
against the back of the chair, the weight of memory and
affliction would change us into loathsome sages.
This is the moment when the yellow leaf that
flutters toward our feet becomes a bright omen, a
decorous tenebrouss) metaphor, a philosophical system
whose overwhelming neatness, if we tried to interpret
it, would annihilate all the useless, convoluted
verborrhea of all the philosophers who have gone before
This is the moment when a footprint in the
sand or the brief luminous path that disappears into
the ocean topples all the books ever written or yet to
This is the moment of confrontations,
the awesome, unique moment when the two most
implacable and unavoidable questions of all come back
to us, and strike us--
One goes, but where?
One lives, but for what?
out onto a burning plain
where you can't
stay there, or
to make them let you go out
onto that plain.
to a village
where the shriek
of wheels and pulleys
is its only
to attend those wheels
to a place where, they assure us,
there is justice, where there is mercy
and truth on earth.
to flee, terrified,
from that place.
into a line for bread
where it turns out that
all there was was paperclips and "We just ran out,
to stand in that line.
to a beach
where the waves rhythmically vomit up
a young man's drowned body.
remembering that beach.
to an emaciated sea
where a marmoreal marmot murmurs
myriads of mistreatments.
to be able to sail across that ocean.
to one of the camps where they till the land
(from which one never returns, or can)
located beside an earthen dam--
where an ugly, skinny, wizened band
of incarcerated ogresses dances maddened
in celebration of the making by the hand of man
of an ever-ready ogre like a great African
who stands there smiling, licorice-stick in hand.
beside that dam.
But one goes
finally to the finest fuck-up of them all
the great floating flophouse where
a phonograph forever flutes
its philanthropic fluff and
My, mi, meeeee
Someone is singing
Is someone singing?
New York City
Translation by Andrew Hurley
V. S. NAIPAUL'S NARRATIVE ART:
SALIM IN A BEND IN THE RIVER
Talking and listening are major components of
the art of narration.1 A narrator may observe the lives
of those around him and then tell their story, or a
narrator may become deeply involved in the lives of the
people he observes and become a character in the story
he tells to readers. There are degrees of involvement,
but all narrators have one thing in common. At the end
of the tale they tell, they are still around, literally
or imaginatively, to talk to readers who, in turn,
become involved with the text to varying degrees.
Although readers may identify with narrators
and share, for a time, the creation of a story,
narrators are more obsessed with their experiences.
They tell their stories over and over, often in an
effort at understanding forces beyond their initial
comprehension. For example, in Moby Dick, Ishmael does
not understand Ahab; in "The Turn of the Screw," the
governess does not understand what is happening at Bly;
in Wuthering Heights,Nellie Dean does not fathom the
depths of Heathcliff's and Catherine's passion. Such
narrators are restricted; they possess a limited
range of knowledge.2 Restricted knowledge causes gaps
of information, gaps which are there for the reader as
well as for the narrator. We read because we are
curious about those gaps, for the narrator must
penetrate the darkness and seeming emptiness in order
to define what is happening to him or to her. Some-
times, as in "The Turn of the Screw," the attempt to
learn is more fascinating than what is learned. James
has created a permanent gap. We will never know exact-
ly what Peter Quint and Miss Jessel did or did not do
to the children at Bly. Neither will the governess.
Narrators tell us what they know, what they surmise.
They know, but they do not know everything. And in
their storytelling they can only do the best they
can in reaching the truth, so that often the "truth- ,3
ful narrative may have to take an interrogative form.
To discuss narrative art is as endless a task
as a journey into the heart of darkness or in chase of
a mythical white whale. I have named only a few of the
great journeyers or storytellers, and I have ignored
many others whose characteristics expand our under-
standing of narrative art. Many literary narrators
have received critical attention, for so long as
writers create stories that hold their readers'
curiosity, they will continue to create narrators who
tell their tales and attract literary analysis and
A recent narrator, Salim in V. S. Naipaul's
A Bend in the River, is a storyteller who talks,
listens, and lives at the edge of a world he attempts
to comprehend and explain to readers. Salim is an
Indian born on the east coast of Africa, but as the
book begins, he is preparing to start a journey to the
heart of the continent to a town which is, in reality,
a trading outpost. It is impossible to think about
such a situation without recalling that archetypal
traveler and narrator to the Heart of Darkness, Charlie
Marlowe. Both characters unfold within the heart of
darkness which is Africa; both come to a chaotic land
from an outside place; both have a goal to achieve in
the heart of darkness, and both eventually leave and
are, to different degrees, changed by their experiences
In "Conrad's Darkness" Naipaul singles out the
scene in Heart of Darkness which spurred his rediscovery
or discovery of Conrad.
The African background--the "demoralized
land" plunder and licensed cruelty--I
took for granted. That is how we can be
imprisoned by our assumptions. The back-
ground now seems to me to be of the most
effective part of the story; but then it
was no more than what I expected.4
The scene occurs when the steamer going to find
Kurtz stops by a hut on the river bank. In it Marlowe
finds a book on seamanship carefully stitched and
obviously well used. What struck Naipaul about the
scene and finally about Heart of Darkness was Conrad's
vision of the "world's half-made societies and places
which continuously made and unmade themselves, where
there was no goal, and where always 'something inherent
in the necessities of successful action . carried
with it the moral degradation of the idea.'"5 Naipaul's
Africa evolves from Conrad's. The land of nineteenth-
century colonialism has become the land of twentieth-
century revolution and quasi-independence.
A reader in search of the germ for the novel
should look not only to Naipaul's discovery of Conrad,
but also to Naipaul's own canon, especially to "A New
King for the Congo," his essay about Zaire, the new
Belgian Congo. A Bend in the River is the story of one
man's sojourn in a town in a new African country, ruled
by an unnamed President who resembles the portrait of
General Mobutu which Naipaul draws in that Congo essay.
At the beginning of the novel, Salim is leaving his
home on the east African coast to journey to the town
in the interior at the bend of the great river which
must be the Congo, or the Zaire. His destination might
well be Conrad's Stanleyville Station where Kurtz
reigned, the place Naipaul writes of in "A New King for
the Congo." "Seventy years later, at this bend in the
river, something like Conrad's fantasy came to pass.
But the man with the 'inconceivable mystery of a soul
that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear' was
black, and not white."6 The man was Pierre Muele, a
former minister of education whose rebellion at
Stanleyville led to a reign of terror.
As Conrad's narrator, Marlowe, makes his
journey towards a similar station in a French steamer,
Naipaul's Salim drives a French car, a Peugeot, and
like Marlowe's trip, Salim's journey is discouragingly
attentuated. For Salim, every day's drive is "like an
achievement."7 Salim is an outsider in the town at
which he arrives, a town in ruins from the recent
struggle for independence.
He has been an outsider all his life. His
family has called Africa home for centuries, but Salim
sees that coastal home as not truly African. "True
Africa was at our back" (p. 10). In an ambiguous
position, the Muslim community with ancestors in
Arabia, India, and Persia seems African, but within
the heterogeneous group of Arabs, Indians, and Persians,
Salim's own family is set apart. Although Muslim, the
family is closer to the Hindus of northwestern India,
the land of the family's origin, than to others in the
African coastal community.
Salim tells us what he knows of his background
in negative terms. Isolated from a clearly established
ethnic group, Salim defines himself by what he is not
rather than what he is.
When we had come [to the east coast of
Africa] no one could tell me. We were
not that kind of people. We simply
lived; we did what was expected of us,
what we had seen the previous generation
do. We never asked why; we never
recorded. We felt in our bones that
we were a very old people; but we
seemed to have no means of gauging the
passing of time. Neither my father nor
my grandfather could put dates to their
stories. Not because they had forgotten
or were confused; the past was simply
the past. (p. 11)
Salim's recollection of his family is full of gaps. He
has feelings, but no facts. The only specific detail
he possesses comes from a story told by his grand-
father, a story of his shipping slaves as a cargo of
rubber. Nothing else. All Salim has is the memory
of that story. He can and does fill in the gaps by
reading European history books which define his past
for him. Salim is a colonial, and he has known, as
Naipaul himself knew, a kind of security, habitation
"in a fixed world."8 He has lived "under a European
flag at the edge of the continent" (p. 15), and assumes
that he will exist by carrying on the life of his
family, the existence of outsiders on the fringe of an
ever-changing continent. Salim's family has lived for
years between civilizations. Non-tradition has become
their tradition; insecurity, their security.
Space is tenuous for Salim, and time itself
refuses to provide him with any great comfort. A new
tide of history is on the way which will destroy the
old coastal life of his family. Salim foresees the
coming changes because he has developed the detachment
which makes him a restless wanderer never at home in a
world which will never welcome all its inhabitants.
More important, detachment shapes him as a narrator for
the particular upheaval in the town at the bend of the
What moves Salim towards his skills as a
narrator is "that habit of looking, detaching himself
from a familiar scene and trying to consider it as
from a distance" (p. 15). What further develops this
point of view is a specific incident: the introduction
by the British of stamps depicting local African scenes.
One stamp shows an Arabian boat, a dhow which Salim has
often seen in his boyhood. The stamp teaches him to
look at the show as something belonging to a particular
region, not something that is part of his own experience.
From this ability to separate himself from even the
most commonplace scenes, Salim makes a metaphysical
leap to a vision of his family's future. He knows that
unlike Europeans who will either meet Africa halfway
or resist change with pitched battles, his people will
simply be washed away in that new tide of history. And
so, in order to survive, both as a functioning human
being and as a narrator, he must break away from his
past, from the family which has never been clearly
defined for him.
By his decision to be master of his own fate,
Salim breaks with the tradition of his family. His
goal is "not to be good . but to make good"
(p. 20). Salim goes to the town at the bend in the
river in order to make good with the only skill he
possesses, trading, but there is another motive behind
his journey to the outpost. He has a sense of adven-
ture similar to Conrad's Marlowe. Salim leaves home
to escape a stifling commitment to family, to the life
which remains on the coast and which will disappear as
Salim predicts, oblivious to its inevitable destruction.
He leaves to go inland, to run a shop established by
his countryman, Nazruddin, who is always one step ahead
of him, having left not only the coastal hometown, but
also the town at the bend in the river. Nazruddin is
a romantic full of dreams and a storyteller extra-
ordinaire. So different from the others Salim encounters
both in the jungle of Africa and his civilized outposts,
Nazruddin provides stories within the story which Salim
experiences and narrates.
With romantic notions instilled by Nazruddin,
with his need to try and make good, Salim is eager to
define a home in the town at the bend in the river.
Reality does not match the vision, for Salim continues
to be a man on the edge, not on the edge of a continent
this time, but in a town which is on the edge of the
bush, an outpost before the jungle heart of the land.
In this tenuous place Salim, who is neither African,
nor European, nor even in the mainstream of his own
culture, is a marginal figure among other marginal
figures. A home to no one, the town is a place of and
for transients. When Salim arrives, life is at a
standstill. Property changes hands overnight,
squatters come and leave again, the army hovers ominous-
ly in the bush, civilized appearances hide rot, and
apparent material progress covers decay and physical
devastation. The town is filled with refugees from
the villages, expatriates including Belgians, Greeks,
and Indians. This is a place which has no permanence
because of its inhabitants as well as because of its
political situation. This Africa belongs to no one,
and it is no wonder that people are always in motion
from the town. One of those in motion is Salim who
will leave the town at the end of the novel to look
for a safer home. By the novel's conclusion he will
have left the town twice, once to England where he
visits Nazruddin (that eternal traveler), and once
again as an exile.
Before he leaves for the last time, he becomes
involved in the life of the town through encounters with
those displaced persons,who like him, have come to make
good. Among this non-community is the handsome couple
from the east coast, Mahesh and Shoba; another east
African friend, Indar, who leaves the ancestral home
before Salim, goes to England and returns to Africa
with a dream of being or doing good in some village.
Salim participates only on the edge of these friends'
lives. He is an outsider talking of other outsiders,
and his observations are always tenuous. He visits
and listens to their stories which are biographies of
loss and failure. He tells us what he knows, but he
stays apart from their lives as each one moves in the
town, unable to fulfill his own notions of security,
his own vision of success.
The lives of three other displaced persons
affect Salim's actions more directly and move him
towards his final expulsion from the town. The first
is Metty, a servant from the coast, who comes to live
with Salim when the family breaks up its home. An
unwanted responsibility, Metty is the direct cause of
Salim's arrest at the book's end; he tells the police
of the hidden cache of ivory in Salim's yard.
Another hook of responsibility comes to Salim
through Ferdinand, a man of mixed tribal heritage,
a half-breed like Metty. Ferdinand forces his presence
on Salim, who tries to free himself from the claims of
these young men who involve themselves in his life.
His servant Metty causes his arrest, but Ferdinand saves
his life. Becoming a minor government functionary in
the town, Ferdinand frees Salim from prison and advises
him to leave as quickly as possible. The revolution
will destroy Salim and others. No place is safe any
more (p. 272). Ferdinand foresees the chaos, the loss
of his own position,and even the possibility of death
at the hands of the new powers. Readers may conclude
that only Metty survives in the town, perhaps because
he has the ability to adapt to whatever happens. Both
Metty and Ferdinand affect Salim's lifeand both teach
him about a marginal life in an insecure world.
Neither Metty nor Ferdinand touches him as
deeply as Yvette, the European wife of the latest
President's white man. With Yvette, Salim's experiencing
self temporarily dominates--though it never submerges--
his observing, narrating self. The affair begins with
Salim's appearance at Yvette's home, a home which under
lamplight is different from the house under sunlight.
Under lamplight, Salim does not see the cracked plaster
and the leaks from the air conditioner, characteristics
which mar all the homes in the domain, that habitat of
whoever happens to be "on top" in the town. Like the
house, everything is a sham in Yvette's life. Yvette
and Raymond, her husband, are precariously perched "on
top," but they soon lose their places in this insecure
town. Salim intuits their fate early in the relation-
ship because he has developed the habit of looking
outward from himself. As their position deteriorates
along with the political situation, Salim's passion
for Yvette explodes in a scene of physical violence.
He beats her and spits on her, and afterwards, he has
an "illimunation" which is a gloss on his separation
from his passion and from Yvette. He says "that men
were born only to grow old, to live out their span,
to acquire experience. Pleasure and pain have no
meaning. Both are illusions" (p. 222). At the end
of the affair, the observing self of the narrator
submerges the experiencing self. Salim must preserve
his own psyche, his detachment, his role as a marginal
The "illumination" which follows his vicious
treatment of the only important woman in his life
recalls the conclusion made by the Indian cook who
narrates Naipaul's short story, "One Out of Many."
Set adrift in the middle of riot-torn Washington, this
illiterate country peasant passes, often humorously,
among experiences and people he cannot comprehend.
At the story's end he chooses to stop trying to become
part of that life. "I do not want to understand or
learn any more." The final sentence of the story is
"all that my freedom has brought me is the knowledge
that I have a face and have a body, that I must feed
this body and clothe this body for a certain number of
years. Then it will be over."9
Unlike that earlier narrator, Salim chooses
to go on trying to make good. Before he leaves Africa
for a visit to England, he pays a visit to his friends,
Mahesh and Shoba. The visit reinforces his view of
all their lives in the town. All are figures of
desolation. Mahesh and Shoba are cut off from their
life in Africa; they too are unprotected, with nothing
to fall back on. "They had begun to rot. I was like
them" (p. 228).
Because of his insights Salim chooses to again
separate himself not merely from the history of his
past ancestors, but from his most recent past in the
town. Once more he seeks to shape his own life. He
takes flight from Africa to England and visits his
countryman, Nazruddin, who calls him "the most faithful
man I know" (p. 22).
Salim possesses more than faithfulness. With
his narrator's eye, he perceives soon after his arrival
in the West that Europe is not the place he imagined it
to be. It is not the place of great universities,
buildings, and stores. This new Europe is "something
shrunken and mean and forbidding" (p. 229), but Salim
has business to do in his city. He meets with Kareisha,
the daughter of Nazruddin, the woman he has been pledged
to marry, and he listens to that supreme teller of tales,
Nazruddin, as well as to Indar, the countryman who has
failed to find a place for himself either in the East
or the West. In London he gains insights, and the
storieshe hears force him to make another decision.
Salim decides to turn his back on Africa.
The past there is dead and exists only to be trampled
upon. In both his Congo essay and in his novel Naipaul
develops a thesis that for the African, the African
past is a blank. It is,at best, an alibi.10 His
visit to London does not present him with a viable
alternative, a chance to attach himself to a meaningful
life. In London, he sees existences that are scarcely
different from what he has known all his life.
Particularly appalling is his description of the people
who run the stalls and "choked grocery stores," in
London; these people have "squashed themselves in"
(p. 230). Most desolate of all is the image which
haunts him of the "young girls selling packets of
cigarettes at midnight, seemingly imprisoned in their
kiosks,like puppets in a puppet theatre. They were
cut off from the life of the great city where they
had come to live" (p. 230). Such a life is not too
different from what he has known in the town at the
bend in the river.
Salim presents two other images which emphasize
the typography of London life. One day he sees an
Arab lady walking with her slave, an ironic contrast
to the vaunted freedom of the Western world. Every-
where he goes, Salim seems to transport the freight
of his old world. Things will be no different for him
in London than they were on the coast, or in the town
at the bend of the river. Images of his old life will
be part of any life he chooses, in London or elsewhere.
A second echo of Salim's life in the town
occurs just before he returns to Africa. While he
waits for the plane in Brussels, he visits a prostitute,
an experience which he calls brief, meaningless, and
reassuring (p. 245). The episode is reassuring because
Salim sees that his European sexual experience will echo
his African ones. He has experiencedone-night stands
in his shabby bedroom in Africa, nights which never
satisfied him and only brought him a sense of shame
(p. 42). Life in London--if that is to be the alter-
native to life in Africa--will be both meaningless and
reassuring. Meaninglessness itself gives him the only
security he will ever know, for Salim cannot make a fresh
start, not in Africa, not in Europe, and not in America.
He will always be a marginal figure, and his perception
will always force him to live among marginal people,
people who live on the edge of great continents or great
The reader knows this, and so does Salim.
Only Nazruddin, that romantic world traveler, seems to
have found contentment, finally, in his perfect retire-
ment home on Gloucester Road. That wanderer in Africa,
Canada, and London has always chosen well, and by
contrast, Salim realizes his own life will always be
"unsatisfactory." Nazruddin chooses well, but for
Salim, the choice is between death at the hands of the
new ruling class in the town at the bend in the river,
or a living death in London, a city which promises him
a prison-like existence, as separate and pointless as
the life he leaves behind.
He returns to Africa only to wind up his
affairs so as "to make a fresh start somewhere else"
(p. 245), an impossibility and a despairingly ironic
statement. The novel ends, as it began, with a journey.
Salim will depart from the town for good this time,
and not in a French car, which he leaves behind for Metty,
but by the steamer which is bound for a destination not
revealed to us. And so Salim, that most faithful of men,
will remain faithful to the dictum with which he opens
his whole narration. "The world is what it is; men who
are nothing allow themselves to become nothing, have
no place in it" (p. 3). If the reader wants to believe
that the sentence suggests Salim's desire to escape
nothingness, that same reader may see hope in Salim's
journey away from the town, for although Salim cannot
choose well, he at least makes a choice among places.
Like Conrad's Marlowe, Salim has learned about Africa.
Marlowe learns that others go to the Congo to "run an
overseas empire, to make no end of coin by trade," or
play the role of emissary of light. 1 Because Marlowe
shares none of these motives, his journey to what seems
to him to be the center of the earth, makes him a man
on the edge, on the margin as well as an appropriate
storyteller about an exploited country. Because of
his marginal position, because he does not take sides
until he meets Kurtz, Marlowe can objectively tell us of
his encounter with the river and the country. Like
Marlowe, Salim can tell us about a place, an environ-
ment which does not claim him as one of its own.
Naipaul and Conrad have depicted the moral
degradation of East and West through their narrators'
perceptions. Salim perceives the changing life of
Africa and says that the black man has assumed the lie
of the white man (p. 16). In the evolution of Naipaul's
work, lies appear as illustrative of the political
situation. In his earlier work, "In A Free State,"
the main characters speak of lies; Bobby, the point-
of-view character, tells his companion, Linda, that
everybody lies.12 In A Bend in the River, Salim tells
the reader that the same Europe which created his
history also introduced his people to the lie (p. 16).
It is not illogical to reflect that Europe introduced
that lie during the time of Joseph Conrad's creation
of a morally degraded Africa, a civilization which
lacked a belief or an idea. "The people who come now
--after the general flight--are like the people who
came then. They offer goods, deals, technical skills,
the same perishable civilization; they bring nothing
The lies, the corruption, and the tumultuous
political situation which ignore the omnipresent human
misery of the place find their past in "Heart of Dark-
ness." So does the town at the bend in the river with
its rubbish heaps, its silent squatters and campers
from the villages set against the contrasts of the
Europeanized hotel, the bogus elegance in the flat of
Mahesh and Shoba, the rotting bungalows in the Domain,
the Bigburger franchise, and the outrageous prices of
everything. And the cult of the President, with his
shrines and his self-worship,recalls the omnipresent
figure of Conrad's Kurtz.
There is corruption in the trading outposts
created by both Conrad and Naipaul, and it pervades the
jungle which encroaches constantly upon these attempts
at civilization. The jungle is ambiguous--beautiful,
menacing, and terrifying. Not only are the so-called
places of civilization full of decay and rot, the
jungles also bear the marks of corruption. Salim's
trips in the jungle reveal ruins, decay, and over-
sized billboards of the ominous figure of the President
who has promised to build a "new Africa" which is, in
reality, a kingship for its own end.14
Unlike Naipaul, Conrad provides a positive
value for his narrator, even in the midst of this
corruption. Marlowe seeks escape from the desolation
of the life around him by immersing himself in work,
the repair of the steamboat. Transient sex is almost
all Naipaul provides Salim. Until his strange affair
with Yvette, Salim looks only to prostitutes, a game
of squash, or a cup of coffee at the Van Der Weyden
Hotel as relief from his empty life.
But for both Salim and Marlowe, Africa provides
the stuff out of which they create narrative art.
That is their common raison d'etre. With their
stories over, both of them must leave Africa. They
leave a country dominated by incredible beauty,
incredible corruption by both black and white, as well
as a lack of hope for the future. Like Conrad, Naipaul
stresses the desolation of the setting, a desolation
which becomes part of his narrator's psyche. As a
marginal figure Salim must move on. He must seek other
tales to tell; like Marlowe, Salim last speaks on a boat.
Conrad's narrator speaks to his audience from a boat on
the Thames, and Naipaul's teller speaks from a boat ready
to leave the battle-torn town.
If the characters are in flux, so too is the ever-
moving African river whose movement is threatened by the
water hyacinth. It clogs waterways and sticks to the
river's banks. The tall flower which is a "new thing"
in the river comes from the heart of the continent and
floats down the river appearing whenever the water is
mentioned in the book. Naipaul creates a symbol out of
this flower which he has written of several times.
In his Congo essay, Naipaul comments that the
hyacinth shows white in a steamer's searchlights which
sweep the riverbanks at night; it is
a water plant that appeared on the upper
Congo in 1956 and has since spread all the
way down, treacherously beautiful, with
thick lilylike green leaves and a pale-
lilac flower like a wilder hyacinth. It
seeds itself rapidly; it can form floating
islands that attract other vegetation; it
can foul the propellers of the steamer.
If the steamers do not fail, if there are
no more wars, it is the Congo hyacinth
that may yet imprison the river people
in the immemorial ways of the bush.15
Also showing white in the searchlight's sweep are
the white moths and flying insects (p. 278). These
flowers and insects are indigenous to the volatile land.
The butterflies may suggest hope to the reader
who thinks or wants to think that all may be well for
the Naipaul hero, but they also represent a crucial
element of the place itself, the place where Salim has
learned about himself. Attracted to the light, the
butterflies fill the air; they are ephemeral, and their
lives are short. They represent the lack of permanence
in the land, the change and vulnerability which are
permanent aspects of the land Naipaul heard Conrad tell
about in Heart of Darkness. This is a land that makes
and unmakes itself almost daily, a land that provides
the perfect setting for narrative art, for a narrator
who is a marginal figure among other marginal figures.
Cutting himself off from Africa, Salim leaves,
separates himself from his past, and moves toward some-
where else, perhaps London where Nazruddin's daughter
waits for him. At the end of Heart of Darkness,Marlowe
on the yawl "Nellie," ceases talking and sits apart,
"indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating
Buddha."16 Like Marlowe, Salim ends as he began, as a
distinctly separate narrator, rather than an experiencing
self. He has learned about a place and its past; he
has become involved with the people in that place, and
even more so, with the environment that is the Africa
of their time. At the end, Salim pulls back from the
people and from the place; he rejects involvement. In
the process of telling, he has revealed a "sense of a
country trapped and static, eternally vulnerable,"
changing and yet remaining the same. Salim has gained
the African sense of the void.17
Salim's rejection of Africa is ambiguous. He has
learned that there is no past, present, or future for
him in that land. He has also come to see that the
Europe he has known only through history books is
meaningless and that, at best, his life will always be
unsatisfactory. He will always be on the edge. Yet,
perhaps a small measure of hope may be taken from one
of the symbols of the land he sees for the last time
from the steamer, the water hyacinth. Like the
hyacinth, he has endured. Salim is a survivor, and
that indeed is a feature endemic to the narrator who
must survive his experiences in order to tell a story.
He is one of the loneliest of narrators, one who will
always observe, never participate in, the lives of
those around him, lives that are most often marginal,
lives enacted in the outposts of continents or on the
fringes of the civilized world.
Clare R. Goldfarb
Western Michigan University
Barbara Hardy, Talkers and Listeners (London:
The Athlone Press, 1975), pp.155, 159.
2Meir Sternberg, Expositional Modes and Temporal
Ordering in Fiction (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press,
1978), p. 279.
3Hardy, p. 162.
4Naipaul, "Conrad's Darkness," The Return of Eva
Peron (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), p. 215.
5 Ibid., p. 216.
6V. S. Naipaul, "A New King for the Congo," The
Return of Eva Peron (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980),
7V. S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 4. Further references to
this edition will appear in parentheses in my text.
8Naipaul, "Conrad's Darkness," The Return of Eva
Peron, p. 216.
9V. S. Naipaul, "One Out of Many," In a Free
State (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), p. 61.
10Naipaul, "A New King for the Congo," p. 199.
1Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (New York:
W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1971), pp. 10, 12.
12Naipaul, "In a Free State," In a Free State,
13Naipaul, "A New King for the Congo," p. 193.
1Ibid., p. 207.
1Ibid., p. 184.
16Conrad, Heart of Darkness, p. 79.
Naipaul, "A New King for the Congo," p. 207.
"(People are Continually asking one the way out)"
If you came God knows how many miles
to this orb and this west hemisphere
and hung a left at North America
and didn't bother with touring
the teeming millions upon millions
of people and places strewing that beach,
and if you travelled southward to the Islands
--and these little lumps of rock pushed heaving up
through the water from the earth's boiling core
umpteen zillion years ago
to sizzle in the steaming sea
and which now have cooled down, mas o menos,
to certain differences,
(or, were extruded out
millimeter by milli-millimeter
by trillions of tiny
polyp after polyp after polyp
piling their dead behind them
and on which Columbus later ran aground
--the man was lost--
and now are barnacled by a precarious people
who live their lives ducking from hurricanes,)
but if you stopped before you hit South America
and you didn't tour those milling millions
clinging to the crevices on that rock
and went ashore at Port of Spain in Trinidad instead,
then, if you went down Independence Square
and hung a left up Richmond to Dundonald
and up between them houses to the Savannah
and then went Queen's Park West to Maraval
and then out Maraval Road past Bossiere Village,
then, just before the road to Maracas, on the right,
you'd come to these three little houses in a row,
and the little creamish one squeezed in the middle
between the chinee man with worms on the one side
and Rosita's whoring mother on the other
is where my uncle Sonny paid the rent
and lived with Aunt Suzie and their six kids,
my favorite cousins,
and made about ten different kinds of stew
on evenings when he came home from work
for 37 years until he finally dropped dead.
And just a little further down the street
on the same side, in the back
of that little brown stone house by the corner
is Selwyn's backyard where once,
digging holes for playing marbles in the dirt,
I found a rock that held
a little fossilized sea urchin shell.
an hour chimes outside.
eyes find me
moving to a bookshelf
in our usual mute indifference
to the intricate moment.
the tourists who invade the city
think us quaint,
find us happy.
or days echo like
images from old poems.
when I press dusks together
days harden into tombstones
where I hammered, making my mark.
some days the blunt marble chipped
freeing little echoes
of thunder and spirit
from the compacted dust.
round and round
the rumbling sun has roll'd.
the dryer stops tumbling.
the hot clothes limp
to the bottom of the drum.
I have now come
to where my hot clothes lie lumped
in the bottom of a drum.
University of Bridgeport
SOME ONCES UPON A TIME
Once upon a time, so far, far back in the remotest
part that I can just barely remember it, there was a
verb, and this is how it went: We lived in Dallas,
which then was just East Texas, and East Texas was still
the South. My mother was from a little town, and my
father was from a little bigger town, but we all talked
like Tennessee Ernie Ford, even if we did live in Big D
and looked down on the yokels in Forth Worth. We kee-uds
would, then, as we pronounced it, play lack: "Let's
play lack we're robbers and your little brother over
there in the play pen is the bank and we'll stick 'im
up and take 'im for a hostach and then we'll play lack
they can't do anything with us or we'll shoot 'im."
And so forth. We'd play lack so many times a day and
so often and, often, so heatedly that pretty soon
three or four of us would be talking at once, and fa-yust,
or as fa-yust as we could drawl, and so there was this
verb--plack. "While your mother's gont' th' store,
let's plack there's been this big bomb and everybody
died--but us, I mean--and we can do whatever we want
to, and let's plack we're eatin' that cake!" We
placed day in and day out and day and night and dawn
to dark--the street must have had fifty kinds, all
about the same age, and dinnertimes were staggered
enough that at least five or six or a dozen of us were
always loose, and so you could leave one plack and go
home eat and come back and kind of pick up on another
plack. The whole world was plack, and where the hay-ul
has that verb got to?
Once upon a time, and a very good time it must
have been, the whole world was one thing and every-
thing. Everything was of, or of the nature of, or
shared existence with everything else. Magic (meaning
controlling the uncontrollable) and science, the hunt
or war and the dance, were one: Man and animal and
god, the beaver my brother, the crocodile a god, god a
king, the king my brother my god a man. The living was
in every fiber inspirited with the dead, with the gone,
and death was another life. Painting and writing were
one, and one with the world, a picture, the uncontrol-
lable controlled by a magic ununderstood but inconceiv-
ably potent. Reality and dream, and dream with the
unreal future and the unreal past, realized in picture,
writing, and in dream. Once upon a time there was one
world, of all worlds, one.
Philogeny recapitulates ontogeny.
Once upon a time there was this cat and I was
kind of flipping my toes, like you'd snap your fingers,
to the music or just because I was nervous, I don't
remember, and the cat got real serious with my big toe
and I had four stitches.
Once upon another time we had this chow-and-german-
shepherd named Red and this boxer named Pug. Pug would
sleep on his back in the yard with all four feet up in
the air and would get real excited when the clothes were
hanging on the line and it was windy. He'd jump and
snap at the sheets and play and pretty soon he'd have
the clothes down and once he got the whole clothesline
down. It had just rained and he was all muddy from
playing with Red in the loblolly they'd made under the
fig tree where Red slept mostly, because it was cool,
and he didn't know till my mother literally started
crying that it wasn't just pure fun to snap at the
sheets in the wind. But that was another time. This
time is that Pug loved to play but Red was getting old.
He was really good with kids--calm and tolerant and
self-controlled and real careful, you could hug him or
ride him or anything. He was dignified, I'd say now.
We were kind of excited and laughing from Pug running
and jumping up on us and grinning all the time like he
did and somebody had one of those clothespins with a
spring to make it hold but Pug, being a boxer, 's tail was
too short, so somebody clipped the clothespin to old
Red's tail. He let us do it. We laughed, but then he
started barking and crying and trying to catch his tail
and then running around the back yard, and then trying
to get his tail again, till we all felt really bad and
I got close enough to grab off the clothespin, and he
didn't bite me, but he wouldn't play with us the rest
of the afternoon, even if we didn't really want to play
but to pet him so he'd know we were sorry and he'd let
us hug him and make us feel better. My father said it
was awful, to play that way with an old dog, and we
all knew it.
Once upon a time in the shadows of a firelit cave
or just outside the circle of the fire or under a moon
in a clearing with quiet spreading like a circle out
away or sprawled after the boar's meat or venison around
a gloomy hall, a group of people, old and young, all of
one people, the broad family of once upon a time, would
listen as a voice of great power would evoke out of the
dark, the gloom, the night, the quiet, once upon a times
of the family of man. His magical voice would lure
from the shadows phantoms radiant and gold as the day,
to act their deeds of love or revenge, of hatred, of
great valor, of cunning or hauteur in a light of vision
as bright as the images of the magic words spoken by
his organ voice. He could whisper, thunder, grunt, cry,
croon, groan, soothe to sleep, start the heart pounding,
shriek. Hairs would stand on the back of the neck and
the forearms, eyes brighten with glee or tears or fear,
limbs slacken or tense as to action, literally strain.
He peopled the night with act and emotion.
One among the listeners, an old man who had heard
all the bards, would listen to this other, as his story,
a moving moving picture of words, sounds, unrolled it-
self in time, in the night, while in thus unrolling the
once upon a time tricked time, and stopped it too, made
once, long ago, be now, made now seem to last.
And as the old man listened, he would know the
power of the teller, could judge by an empirical instinct
the durability, the beauty (though such a word might well
have been inconceivable--it was only instinct at work,
after all), the value of the structure of sounds making
sense, stories, history. Rhyme was there, and the
rude rhythms that hearts and breathing and eyeblinks
knew and made, and words that were names of things and
people and not-people. The story, or history, the deeds
were (or because of the words, sounds, seemed to be)
there too. The old man had heard all the bards; he
himself had told stories and sensed the art necessary
(that maybe he lacked) to their telling--anyway, knew a
good story, a brave deed, a love that immortalized and
kills, when he heard one, heard one told. Never once
had he thought about a good story's goodness; yet he
knew if this one was one, if this one had that. We can
even assume the old man could no longer talk, to tell
the others, to utter judgment; but he would still know,
and the bard, there telling his history, would know,
too, and know the old man knew, and whisper, thunder,
grunt, cry, croon, groan, shriek, till soul clapped
hands and sang.
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
(for J. K.)
Since I left you there
Among flamboyant blossoms
Beside the pool,
My summer's read away
Days invested safely
Earning passage in measured regularity.
Scholars exchange garrulous anecdotes
Azure Mountains, clouded sea
Our valley's misted plains.
Marie, Ian having spoken,
You invoke Piquenard,
Cesaire, Conde, Zobel.
Your key makes concentration difficult
Nothing to do with research
Golden locks with literature
Sibyls with dusting manuscripts.
Yet tongue and lips spell life
To minutes reviving page by page.
Commerce bathes our island's shores
Surging in waves of people through
Crowded streets, narrow stalls
Up mountain lanes
To ebb at last,
Detached consideration dresses
Poverty in garments more
Acceptable than ordinary cloth
Labeling forms naif, sounds primitif,
Ignoring blood sketched out
On canvas, strings, cowhide drum.
Corporations concede guilty profit,
Pleading employment created
For sealocked peasants, civilization's
Fruitful carnage bearing northward
From shores they must flee to live,
Awash in green profusion.
Perhaps Eve's apple
Tasted the same in Adam's garden.
Its acid savor of pain,
Hopelessness and death.
Eden spoiled, first corrupted dream
Of man's insatiable appetite.
Hunger dormantfor years rises
With that serpentine road, abandoning
Port-au-Prince's teeming markets
For mountain solitude,
Suspended tropical afternoons,
Moonlight dancing at Ibo L6i6.
Moments of meaning come
If at all, not as designed,
An unexpected pause of wings,
One uncalculated touch
Sealing a bond more perfect
For taking us unawares.
Having left you there
Among flamboyant blossoms,
That island key
Survives the brow of darkness
Ancient as an orchard untended
Wave on wave, incremental benediction.
Robert D. Hamner
EDWARD KAMAU BRATHWAITE:
The ear receives its sip
of water drink
ripples of silver cicada
and the skin stretches tight to my fingertips
and the dewdrops form bells
and the silver shatters like glass
as you begin your whisper
first like soft shak-shak
then jumbie-bead rattle
then snakes in the garden of eden
all evening all evening of glitter
and the stamp on the foot of the ground
and the shaker: rasp
of the calabash seed in it belly a hampa:
ta ti ta ta and a pan-
ther of breath in the forest of sound
and a dancer
Its when the bamboo from its clip of yellow green
begins to glow and the wind learns the stops of its fires
and my fingers following the termites drill
find the hollow of silence
echo of sound
that my eyes close all along the wall all along the
branches all along the
and that sharp creak and shadow those soft graves of sunlight
spiders over the water
cobwebs crawling over your stampen ground
from a distance so cool it is a hill in haze
it is a fish of shadow along the sandy bottom
that the wind is following my footsteps
that my fingers encounter wells
that that face that I have seen before in some damp summer
is my echo
echo me in wind cuckoo and cock my brother
into your sudden turmoil grind the sounds of stone and pebble
that I may begin to know their cleft and culpt and texture
it is a baby mouth but softer than the sound it makes
it is a hammock sleeping in the woodland
it is a hammer shining in the shade
it is the kite ascending chord and croon and screamers
it is the cloud that curls to hide the eagle
it is the ripple of the stream from bamboo
it is the ripple of the song from blue
it is the gurgle pigeon green the woo dove coo
it is your breathing listening the splendour
it is your breathing waking up the world
The drummer is thin and has been
a failure at every trade but this
but here he is the king of the
cats it is he who kills them
. sick sad and subtle .
from his throne of skin and symbol
he controls the jumping rumble
using simple skock and cymbal
a trick or two that leaves you
ing and reveals that perfect quattrocento patt.
er.ning. gi.otto. ghir.landai.o chan.o po.zo. klook
(for Melba Liston)
Music will never fly out of your green horn in squares
nor out of your harps nor out of your thumb pianos
because it does not grow on cotton wool plantations
it is not manufactured food nor made of metal neither
it can never go straight up to heaven
clambering up its notes from a ladder in the sky
for it curls like your hair around its alabama root, circles
like fishwater around your children's sticks
has deep watery eyes like a sea lion has clear fiery eyes
like the hawk
it sees through stone and dynamites itself in quarries
of deep bone bringing our riddim home
it is the blue lagoon inside your slide trombone
it is the echo not the rock that does
it is the reggae reggae riddim dat explodes the prison
burns the clock
(for Marjorie Whylie)
It is strange how your hands your fingers
your thumbprints and the palms of your hands
have become a flight of twitters
the left hand of violin sparrows
the pianist hopping like blackbirds
the drummer & dragon gunpowder fists in its power
when the tambourine rustles from grasses of silence
how high is the high that that butterfly can fly
when the picolo speaks why the fire
but the crab cracked hands of the gabriel trumpeter
golden & talon
burning his wheels at the height of his talent
And miles & miles & miles &
He grows dizzy
the sun blares
only the brass
of him own mood
if he could fly
he would be
he would see
how the land
how the fields
how the houses fit into the valleys
he would see cloud
lying on water
moving like the hulls
of great ships over the land
but he is only a
he reaches to the sky
with his eyes
closed his neck
imagination topples through the sunlight like a shining stone
Edward Kamau Brathwaite
University of the West Indies
Mona, St. Andrews, Jamaica
V. S. Naipaul.
Finding the Center: Two Narratives.
New York: Knopf, 1984.
The two narratives that make up this book were
first published separately: "Prologue to an Autobiography"
in the April 1983 issue of Vanity Fair and "The Crocodiles
of Yamoussoukro" in The New Yorker, May 14, 1984. In his
foreword to the book, Naipaul explains what prompted him
to group them under one title: "both pieces are about the
process of writing. Both seek to admit the reader to
that process." Naipaul succeeds.
The first piece allows the reader to follow the
driven young writer's struggles to fulfill a vocation he
had inherited from his father, but which was more in the
nature of a "fantasy of nobility" far removed from his
To an avid reader of Naipaul's Caribbean fiction
--all those wondrous, down-to-earth, wryly funny stories--
"Prologue" is indeed a revelation and a confirmation.
The fact that the very first sentence of his first story
came to mind seemingly unbidden and directionless comes
as no surprise. Garcia Mdrquez recounts almost the same
experience about Cien Aios de Soledad. In this sense
"Prologue" confirms our belief that there is something
"magical" in writing, besides talent and hard work, and
that writers of fiction are those that can come up with
a starting point out of many-faceted life experiences.
His family life, source of so much material, was,
according to Naipaul, a vast jumble whose sequence emerged
with the writing of'Prologue." But to me, as a reader,
this sequence is more like viewing a collection of stills
of family characters and events after having seen the
epic film. What is really fascinating is the way these
characters and events are transformed into fiction, and
most of all what Naipaul reveals about himself in the
Vargas Llosa says that every novel is a "strip-
tease" where the author reveals the demons that drive
and possess him; they are usually felt to be the ugliest
partsof the self. But unlike the real striptease, in
the novel the author starts out naked and ends up clothed
in such a way that not even he can hear the autobiograph-
ical overtones that are an inevitable part of any
fiction. We have known Naipaul through his fiction, and
now we get Naipaul's image of himself. The author is a
different person from his narrator who seems much more
in tune with the happenings ofthe street; as Naipaul
points out while summing up his own personality in one
word: he is and has always been a "looker."
It is the mature looker we get to know in "The
Crocodiles of Yamoussoukro." Naipaul wants to show the
reader how he goes about this "other side of his business:
traveling, adding to his knowledge of the world, exposing
himself to new people and new relationships." His brief
for traveling, he tells us, is political-cultural, stem-
ming from the deprivation he felt as a result of his
The intellectual journey into the Ivory Coast is
peopled by different characters: Africans, diplomats,
West Indian, and European expatriates. It takes us
inexorably to Yamoussoukro and to the mysterious croco-
diles. Yamoussoukro, the tribal village of the president,
is now a pharaonic creation: an ultramodern hotel with
a magnificent golf course, a mosque, the presidential
palace, a university with an unknown number of students.
It is a metropolis awaiting full use, a new world that
"existed in the mind of others," but whose future when
the president and these others depart is impossible to
predict. And Yamoussoukro is the setting for the croco-
diles. The animals imported from another place are an
everpresent, elusive symbol. Their feeding ritual, wit-
nessed daily by a crowd, ends with the throwing of a live
chicken to be devoured by one of the waiting monsters.
Yamoussoukro, in the middle of the country, becomes
the symbol for the center of this West African nation and
its inhabitants. The connections Naipaul makes in trying
to understand and to share this African experience are an
exercise in ordering, just as is his fiction. The glimpse
of Africa we see in "The Crocodiles" is ordered and
shaped by Naipaul's experience, understanding, and his
desire to know the center of other people's states of
mind--all this, by his own admission, in part dictated
by his Trinidadian background.
This is a fact we are unable to forget through-
out the reading of this book. Getting to know Naipaul's
center takes precedence over the narratives. The intri-
cacies of his character become somewhat easier to under-
stand as he weaves between past and present, between
the Caribbean and other parts of the world. The full-
ness of the connections we make will depend on our own
"burden of experience."
Myrsa Landr6n Bou
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, P. R.
John Holm, ed.
Central American English.
Heidelberg: Julius Gross Verlag, 1983.
A quarter million Central Americans speak English
as their first language. These people who live along
the eastern coast from Belize to Panama "are on the front
line of a struggle between Spanish and English for domi-
nance in the New World which has been going on for some
In the fifteenth century a papal bull granted
Spain the right to most of the western hemisphere. One
of the earliest English settlements was the Puritan colony
established in 1630 on Providence Island off the coast
of what is now Nicaragua. Although this colony was
destroyed 11 years later by the Spanish fleet, English
trading outposts and buccaneers continued in the area.
The English seized Jamaica from Spain in 1655 and began
to use the island as a base for logging trips to Belize
and the Moskito Coast. With the exception of Belize,
all the English-speaking coastal areas of Central America
are parts of Spanish-speaking republics today. It is
only in Belize, formerly British Honduras, that English
is the official language.
The varieties of Central American English spoken
in these areas "reflect the varied histories of the
speech communities and factors such as the degree of
contact that each community has had with Spanish."
The influence of Spanish is evident in all parts of the
Central American English, which is becoming a language of
bilinguals. "Yet despite the increasing hispanic orien-
tation of each succeeding generation of English-speakers,
English will certainly survive for many more decades--and
possibly many more centuries--in Central America."
In the introduction written by John Holm, a brief
sketch of the history of the area is given as well as a
general description of the syntax, lexicon, and phonology
of the creole. Following the introduction are chapters
on Belizean Creole (Genevieve Escure), Bay Islands
English of Honduras (Elissa Warantz), Nicaragua's Miskito
Coast English (John Holm), the creoles of Costa Rica and
Panama (Anita Herzfeld), and the creoles of Providence,
San Andres, and the Caymans (William Washabaugh). Each
chapter includes a sociolinguistic history and creole
texts. These texts provide examples of the basilectal,
mesolectal, and acrolectal varieties spoken in each area.
Thirteen of the twenty texts are recorded on a cassette
that accompanies the book. These recordings are
invaluable for those who wish to study the phonology
of these creoles or those who just want to supplement
the text by listening. Although the transcriptions
provided in the book are not always exactly the same as
the recorded versions, the inconsistencies are minor and
it is possible to follow the texts easily.
Although interest in Caribbean creoles is not
new, there has been very little research on the creoles
of the Central American coast. According to Holm,
"Central American English is one of the Western Hemis-
phere's best-kept secrets." These varieties of English
are little known to those who do not live in the areas.
Thanks to Holm and the others who have contributed to
this book, this has been changed. More research, of
course, is still needed. This book provides a general
description of the creoles and an important collection
of texts. More detailed studies of the creoles and
comparative analyses should be done. The publication
of Central American English has provided the foundation
for this research.
Joan M. Fayer
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, P. R.
Reena and Other Stories.
New York: Feminist Press, 1983.
Lovers of literature will find Paule Marshall's
latest book, Reena and Other Stories, a special treat.
It is a collection of Marshall's early short fiction
(much of it out of print), her autobiographical essay,
"From the Poets in the Kitchen," which was published in
The New York Times Book Review series titled "The Making
of a Writer" (January 1983), plus "Merle," a novella
"excerpted from her 1969 novel, The Chosen Place, The
Timeless People, and extensively reshaped and rewritten."
In these collected pieces, readers can trace the growth
and development of Marshall as a writer, and they will
enjoy the autobiographical headnotes to the stories
written especially for this edition. Reading this
collection makes it easier to understand the driving
forces behind her creativity since she answers many of
the questions careful readers might ask themselves--such
as why a particular type of character appears over and
over throughout her work, what importance she gives to
her ancestors, and why most of her characters end up
According to Paule Marshall in "From the Poets
in the Kitchen," she is greatly indebted to the women
who gathered in the basement kitchen of the brownstone
house in Brooklyn where her family lived. It was here
that her learning began. These women used the standard
English they had been taught back home in Barbados,
mixed it with American words and African sounds, and
added their own personal touch to everything they said.
They gossiped, they complained, and they defended their
own interpretations of what they saw happening in the
world around them. War, politics, and religion were
popular themes; the bitter-sweet memories they had of
their old country, Barbados, and the awe-inspiring
wonders of their new country, America, were also talked
about. It was from listening to them that Marshall got
her skill in using everyday speech and her ability to
see and use "the beauty, the poetry and wisdom it often
contains." Marshall states that her work is "a testimony
to the rich legacy of language and culture so freely
passed on to me in the 'wordshop' of the kitchen." Mar-
shall pours into this essay all the love and admiration
she feels for these women; she shows how a kitchen can
become a workshop of words and how these almost illiterate
women can be poets in their own right.
"The Valley Between" (1962), Marshall's first
published story, and "Reena" (1962), her first and only
commissioned story, make an interesting pair. These
two are different in characterization, setting, and
technique, and were written eight years apart, yet they
share certain similarities. Both deal with what she
saw was happening to her life and the lives of other
young women--black and white. Furthermore, there are no
real happy endings to these stories, regardless of
whether the protagonists end up alone or married. There
is a sense of frustration and of unfairness in the way
life has dealt with them because they are women. In "The
Valley Between" Marshall deliberately limits herself to
white characters. She explains how her college compan-
ions, most of them Jewish girls, were destined to become
housewives. College to them was only the "means to raise
their stock in the marriage market." These girls, most
of them quite intelligent, would eventually reach a
moment in their lives when they would feel they were
growing old without having fulfilled certain needs as
women and as human beings. They would then realize
that their lives were a routine and that although they
had economic security, they were bored. It would
probably be too late for them to retrieve what they had
given up in order to marry, and since their husbands
could not understand how they felt, they would see the
women as selfish and self-centered if they worked for
a college degree or pursued a career. This sense of
frustration and hopelessness is what creates the "valley"
between husband and wife.
In 1962 Harper's Magazine asked Paule Marshall
to write an article for a special supplement on "The
American Female." She wrote "Reena," which she calls
a story-essay. Marshall says she isn't very comfortable
with this story because.she considers herself strictly
a fiction writer. At times it is a little too contrived
in terms of plot, and perhaps there should be less
narrative exposition in order to allow her characters
more dramatic life through their actions and dialogue.
Nevertheless the story does convey what she had in mind:
to show what happened to black West Indian women from
an urban, working-class who attended the City College of
New York during the late forties and early fifties.
The story deals with the problems these girls encountered
in their struggle to realize themselves as intelligent,
independent, and talented black women. It tells about
their relationshipswith their parents and with men; it
also deals with the difficulties they encountered in
finding meaningful jobs instead of the stereotyped kind
of work black women were expected to do. Most importantly,
it deals with their need to have a sense of themselves
and of their worth and importance as black women, and
with the difficulty of learning to accept the loneliness
that, according to Marshall, is the price they must pay
for their accomplishments and independence. Marshall
states that both of these stories anticipated many of the
themes that became cultural concerns twenty years later;
both have something to say to women of different back-
grounds and of all ages and colors.
"Brooklyn" and "Barbados" are two of four long
stories Marshall has written about old men. These were
first published in Soul Clap Hands and Sing (1961).
Although the characters come from different cultures
and backgrounds--Professor Berman ("Brooklyn") is Jewish,
and Mr. Watford ("Barbados") is West Indian--they share
a common problem: as death approaches, they suddenly
realize they have led empty lives; they have never been
able to give themselves, to love, to care for somebody
outside themselves. Marshall created these characters
out of the anger she felt toward certain old men she
had met as a young woman. Yet she is very understanding
and gives reasons for their behaving as they do.
Marshall explains that she wrote stories about
old men because she wanted to see if she could write
convincingly of them. She can. They are true to life,
and readers can feel their indifference, their coldness
at the beginning of the stories and, at the end, the
sense of desperation that engulfs them.
A magnificent old woman is the subject of "To
Da Duh, In Memoriam" (1967), a story which Marshall
states is the most autobiographical of her works. It is
a delight to read. The theme is the rivalry between
youth and old age, between na'ivetd and sophistication.
A young girl of West Indian parents, born and raised in
New York City, goes to visit her grandmother (Da-Duh)
in Barbados. They take to each other immediately, but
since they resemble each other so much--both are head-
strong and proud--the rivalry starts from the very
beginning. Da-Duh cannot understand what snow is; she
cannot understand how there can exist anything taller
than a royal palm tree growing on her plot of land.
Although at the end the girl triumphs when she tells
her that she will mail back a postcard of a building
taller than the tallest mountain in Barbados, it is a
bitter-sweet victory when she understands how her
grandmother has been emotionally and psychologically
Da-Duh is the ancestral figure who appears in
most of Marshall's work: she is the old hair-dresser
in Brown Girl, Brownstone; she is Leesy Walkes in The
Chosen Place, The Timeless People; she is Aunt Vi in
"Reena," and she is Avey Johnson's Great-Aunt Cuney
in Praisesong for the Widow. Paule Marshall feels she
is the descendant of a long line of black women from
Africa and from the New World who have suffered, endured,
and carried on their heritage; she feels a great
responsibility toward them because they have made
possible the person she is.
"Merle" is the last work that appears in Reena
and Other Stories. Marshall's publisher calls it a
novella excerpted from The Chosen Place, The Timeless
People, but it really is a condensation of the novel
and focuses all its attention on the principal character,
Merle Kinbona. Merle is,as Marshall states, the kind of
woman who has never found anything in her own work that
defines her, and she therefore looks to her lovers for
definition. She is also the most passionate and political
of her characters. It is very unusual for a writer to
condense an already published and well-known novel. A
possible explanation could be Marshall's great love and
admiration for the figure she created. As part of a
collection of short stories, Merle might reach a greater
number of readers.
Although "Merle" stands out as an independent
story, those who have read The Chosen Place, the Time-
less People will probably be disappointed. Most of the
intricacies, minor themes, and descriptions of Bourne-
hills (the tiny island forgotten by civilization) and
its inhabitants which gave such richness to the novel
are missing. Most of the thought processes of the
characters are also curtailed, thereby making it
difficult to condone Saul and Merle for their affair,
which the earlier novel renders more understandable.
Nevertheless, the Merle of the later story is
successful as a symbol of the women who are still
"trying to come to terms with their life and history
as black women, still seeking to reconcile all the
conflicting elements to form a viable self." By the
story's end, Merle is somewhat optimistic and still
tries, like many of Marshall's black women characters,
to find a satisfying role in life--one where she can
use her energy and creativity.
From the very beginning of her literary career,
Paule Marshall has been a good writer. Her understanding
of human nature, her sensibility, her respect for truth
and fairness, and her style and technical control have
always been there. But as she has matured and grown
in experience, so have her plots and characters become
more interesting and better developed, and we, her
readers, are the beneficiaries.
Stella L6pez Davila
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, P. R.
New York: The Crossing Press, 1984.
Set in the Jamaica of the 1950s, Abeng is a novel
by a young woman writer who grew up in that complex West
Indian society. Written in 1984, this third major work
by Michelle Cliff--earlier writing includes Claiming an
Identity They Taught Me to Despise and a shorter piece
of fiction in the Lillian Smith edited The Winner Names
the Age: A Collection of Writings--explores the search
for racial, historical, and personal self-definition.
The underlying plot of Abeng traces the story of
Clare Savage's coincidental understanding of her place
in Jamaican society and her physical maturation into
womanhood. Through the eyes of the light-skinned Clare,
the summer of 1958 reveals the inconsistencies and
complications that arise from belonging to a colonial
society that exalts and imitates the English, on the
one hand, and shows such imitation to be empty mimicry,
on the other, when it is juxtaposed to the vestiges of
mythological and folkloric customs retained by islanders.
Thus Clare is caught between two drastically opposed
points of view: her father's glorification of his
British heritage and his pride in being light-skinned
versus her mother's sympathetic understanding of and
respect for the culture and tradition of her black
Clare struggles internally to understand the dif-
ferences established by color gradations which limit
and determine a person's worth. She reads The Diary
of Anne Frank and finds similarities between anti-
Semitism and racism. As a result, she reasons to her-
self that "just as Jews were expected to suffer in a
Christian world, so were dark people expected to suffer
in a white one." This is Clare's conclusion after having
tried to come to terms with her own racial identity,
but as Cliff describes her at this point in the novel,
"She was a colonized child, and she lived within
certain parameters which clouded her judgment."
If The Dairy of Anne Frank gives the protagonist Clare,
some understanding of her identity, then Michelle Cliff's
discovery of Zora Neale Hurston (a woman writer of the Harlem
renaissance who went to Jamaica in the 1930s to do field
work for one of her books) probably brought the writer to a
closer comprehension of her own reality. In the novel Tell
My Horse (1938), Hurston presents a study of Jamaican customs
and traditions and acknowledges the fact that in Jamaica
"there is a frantic stampede whiteward to escape from
Jamaica's black mass." But the reference to the Hurston
novel leaves the haunting question of whether Michelle Cliff's
knowledge of Jamaica comes principally from her own early
childhood experience or from her reading of Hurston's books
and other later research. But regardless of which one the
author draws most heavily upon, both vital experience and re-
search are legitimate sources, and Cliff seems to have used
both in the development of her novel.
At times Cliff intermixes more universal, political,
and racial statements with Abeng's plot which digress from
and hamper the narrative of the novel. But even these
inconsistencies of narrative do not mar the book's worth.
The depiction of the multi-faceted Jamaican society through
the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl is a sympathetic portrayal
of a pathetic reality that hovers over much of the Caribbean.
The novel's worth lies not so much in Cliff's commitment
to presenting the inconsistencies and contradictions within
Jamaican society, but in the more universal theme of
awakening and self-definition. It is in this latter context
that Michelle Cliff's Abeng will be most appreciated.
Daisy Santos Guzmgn
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Reinaldo Arenas is a celebrated Cuban novelist and poet.
His long poem El Central appeared in an English-language
translation in 1984, and the novel Otra vez el mar (Now
the Ocean) will appear in a Viking/Penguin edition trans-
lated by Andrew Hurley in 1985.
Kevyn Arthur teaches English and Philosophy at the
University of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He is from
Edward Kamau Brathwaite, a renowned Caribbean poet,
teaches History at the University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston, Jamaica.
Joan M. Fayer is an Associate Professor of English at
the University of Puerto Rico. She specializes in
sociolinguistics and Caribbean creoles.
Clare Goldfarb is well published in the fields of fiction
and narrative and teaches at Western Michigan University.
Robert D. Hamner has a firmly established reputation in
the field of Caribbean Studies and teaches at Hardin-
Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.
Andrew Hurley is an Associate Professor of English at the
University of Puerto Rico. His translations of works by
Latin American authors are widely acclaimed.
Myrsa Landr6n Bou works as a professional translator
and is an associate editor of Sargasso.
Stella L6pez Davila is a graduate student at the
University of Puerto and an associate editor of Sargasso.
Rosa Luisa Mdrquez teaches in the Drama Department of
the University of Puerto Rico.
Daisy Santos Guzman is a graduate student at the Univer-
sity of Puerto Rico and is particularly interested in
68 Notes on Contributors
Pedro Juan Soto is one of Puerto Rico's most distinguished
and respected literary figures. He is best known as a
novel and short story writer and teaches Spanish liter-
ature at the University of Puerto Rico. His recent
novel Un oscuro pueblo sonriente received the 1982 Casa
de las Americas award for Fiction.
-A RG A
Volume 1, Number 1, 19
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Jazz Music .........
Susan Homar: Luis Rafael Sanchez: Interview.
Lizabeth Paravisini: Luis Rafael Sanchez and
Norman Mailer: Puerto Rico and the
United States as Heard on Radio ........
Kevyn Arthur: Poems ........................
Mary Beth Pringle: A Lesson in Tradition:
Katherine Anne Porter's "Holiday" ......
Carole Fragoza: Poem .......................
Valerie M. Babb: Panama Story ..............
Milton Medina: Poem ........................
Eugene V. Mohr: Gordon K. Lewis's
Main Currents in Caribbean Thought:
The Historical Evolution of Caribbean
Society in Its Ideological Aspects,
Edward Kamau Brathwaite's Third World Poems ..
Stella L6pez Davila: Paule Marshall's
Praisesong for the Widow ...............
Thomas Sullivan: Eugene V. Mohr's
The Nuyorican Experience:
The Literature of the Puerto Rican
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS ........................
Volume I, Number 1
Interview with George Lamming and
Gordon K. Lewis