Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bajun Gierl

I picked up Austin Clarke's The Polished Hoe. My attraction to it: Austin Clarke, local (Toronto) writer, Barbadian immigrant, the narrator has a familiar "patois".

Being of Caribbean descent myself (my father is from Barbados, my stepfather is from Trinidad), I have grown up speaking these creoles. In a multicultural society, my sense of self is informed by many cultures. At home, it was Irish, Barbadian and Trinidadian.

I am curious and I have to ask myself: will my familiarity with the Barbadian culture afford me a closer connection to the narrator or somehow enrich my experience of the narrative beyond what someone else of a different background might experience? I think so, but I can't know, obviously, the experience of one without such a background.

My father-daughter issues have resurfaced lately. Sometimes, I'm struck with the sense that I ought to know more about my father's past, his childhood/young adulthood as an African-Caribbean person in Barbados.

Certainly, there are questions and more questions. Thoughts reflecting a sense of tri-cultural guilt have tugged at me:

    Should I be observing some traditions specific to two other sets of cultural norms: Barbadian and Trinidadian?

    My sister is the reluctant one whom my father has designated to be liaison with family in Barbados. Should I be of greater help? (I really LIKED that I didn't have to host my Auntie last year.)

    How much Barbadian literature should I read in order to be considered a good Bajun girl? (What about Irish? My mother is Irish. Should I be reading books written in the Irish language, too?)

    Should I pick up a copy of The Poet and His Place in Barbadian Culture by Kamau Braithwaite?


Naturally, I have been instructed in Barbadian and Trinidadian cultures and what I have learned is reflected in some of my behaviour and ideas.

I automatically decipher linguistic clues and I know that, when around native speakers of either creole, I actually fall quite naturally into speaking/comprehension.

I realize that there are even bigger questions than my own concerns have posed:


    How do we define our relationship to literature? What defines it?

    How does our culturo-linguistic inheritance, if you will, affect what we read and how we read it?

    How does our reading experience of familiar cultural product differ from that of, say, someone from another culturo-linguistic background reading the same product?

    That is, at what points do literary appreciation and culture intersect?


I look forward to exploring these ideas in Reading Lolita in Tehran.

My web travels resulted in a great find: Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal.

So, there you have it, another addition to my Reading List 2005.


***

More about Austin Clarke and The Polished Hoe:

Regretfully, I didn't finish Pigtails n' Breadfruit: the Rituals of Slave Food, a "food memoir" that combines recipes with memories of his formative years in Barbados. Read more here

The Polished Hoe
WINNER OF THE 2003 COMMONWEALTH PRIZE FOR BEST BOOK

WINNER OF THE 2002 GILLER PRIZE

CO-WINNER OF THE 2003 TRILLIUM BOOK AWARD

FINALIST FOR THE 2004 ZORA NEALE HURSTON/RICHARD WRIGHT LEGACY AWARD

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER ? OVER 17 WEEKS ON BESTSELLER LISTS

A BOOK SENSE 76 PICK

A COSTCO BOOK CLUB MAIN SELECTION

As Seen On The News Hour With JIM LEHRER
And Good Morning America With Laura Bush

No comments:

Post a Comment