Sunday, August 3, 2008

The View from Coyaba: Peter Abrahams

Sometime ago I borrowed a copy of "The View from Coyaba" at the Old Harbour public library. It was one of the few West Indian novels on the shelf. I wonder why? Considering that the voices Michael Anthony, Erna Brodber, Jamaica Kincaid, Earl Lovelace, V.S Naipaul, Jean Rhys, Sam Selvon, Derek Walcott (Nobel Prize winner if you please) continue to reverberate everywhere else.

Anyway, The name Peter Abrahams triggered memories of the voice of an old man calmly making sense of the day's news on RJR. If wisdom had a voice it would sound like Peter Abrahams'. As a teenager I really didn't listen to what he was saying but I found his voice reassuring and was sure that whatever he was saying was the embodiment of sagacity. What heightened this infatuation was the knowledge that Peter Abrahams was born in South Africa and had somehow escaped the inferno that was Apartheid and had graced us with his presence here in Jamaica (His autobiography Tell Freedom tells the rest).

So for all these reasons when I took up "The View from Coyaba" I expected it to be good. I was not disapponted.

Coyaba is a historical novel that looks back from the time of the Arawaks - oops Tainos, you can tell what year I took Caribbean History- to the present time. It took me a couple of weeks to read. It's not a fast moving blockbuster, although it does have some sexual tension and intense romance.

One of the ways in which this novel affected my thinking is that it made me see what happened to the Arawaks as genocide. Before I just had this vague notion that after Columbus came the Arawaks became extinct. But after reading Coyaba I saw the extinction of the arawaks as being no different from what Hitler did to the Jews- a crime against humanity; it now appeared horrible and astonishing. I'm sorry, I forget the number, but Abrahams actually put a number to it, and it was far greater than what I had imagined.

The early part of Coyaba put a face to the Arawaks, this was the most memorable part of the novel for me. The rest of the novel spans "four generations chronicling the Jamaican struggle for autonomy". This is a novel I would read again.

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6 comments: said...

Dear Jack Mandora,

I wish you all the best on this project.

I tried a similar project but only with the names:
Caribbean Writers


JackMandora said...

Thanks Geoffery.

That list will definitely supplement the one I've made. There are a few on there that I'd never heard of and which neither my google search nor my brain storm produced.

At first glance it seems like most of our writers lived outside of the Caribbean for a significant period of time. I am thinking that I will do some kind of statistical analysis of this(if only my high school math teachers could hear me now) . I remember Britain claiming George Lamming, saying he really wasn't West Indain grown, that it was Britain that made him.

I'm sure travel adds all sorts of dimensions to a person and therefore to the output. But I'm curious to know if Miss Ida who has lived no where else but Point Hill actually writes and actually gets recognized. said...

Dear Jack Mandora,

I will be very interested in your statistical research because it will add another facet to the Caribbean diaspora.

As far as being recognized, I can tell you, that's a no win game. Really and truly, you write the best that you can write--as with a blog--and if people come by, they come by.

And if you have an audience of one--your mother--so be it. You've done the best that you can. I've really learned this the hard way: "Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy/ don't bury your thoughts/ put your dreams to reality"

That's all InI can do.


JackMandora said...

Yes Geoffery, that's a mantra I've heard from other writers, and one I'm learning to sing; write the best you can, write for the love of it.

Walk Good.

Henriette said...

Dear Jack Mandora,

I am trying to get permission to include a short story by Peter Abrahams in a anthology for grade 11 learners in South Africa. Can you possible help me with contact details for Peter Abrahams or his literary agent, please?

With thanks, Henriette

Anonymous said...

He said between 50,000 and 60,000 Arawaks (yes, he didn't say Tainos).
I agree with you, an excellent book - I would love to know if the characters returned to Uganda and lived out their vision ...