Featured Post by Heman Silochan
The Caribbean Camera Newspaper - Thursday February 6th, 2014
Among the Toronto literati in the past decade or so, many asked around, where was Cecil Foster? What was he doing? Will we ever see another book? His very fine novel launched in 1992, “No Man in the House”, made him a household name as he captured the reality of disjointed Caribbean society, the absence of males and yet, where there was that strong ancestral moral force which kept body and soul intact. We wanted more. An evocative piece, called Slammin’ Tar” in 1998 gave insights into the history of the migrant farm labourer. You come to understand that for those small Caribbean communities in the islands, income from overseas labour is crucially important.
Foster made a solid decision to give up writing for an indefinite period and return to academia. You can say that it was a period of introspection.
He wrote articles for various newspapers here in Toronto, hosted a radio show, and completed his doctorate at York U in Social and Political Thought. Later he lectured in Guelph, and now spends his time at the University of Buffalo. All the while he has been writing, but not fiction. One of his recent books was, “Where Race Does Not Matter –The New Spirit of Modernity.” Here there are prescriptions to enhance the true spirit of multiculturalism, a path breaking direction that Canada can take as a model nation state of the future. Lunching with him this week, it was all too evident how much ground Foster has covered, as an academic, a thinker, definitely a voice to be reckoned with.
Suddenly, with a bang and a thud, a new book is dropped on the reviewer’s desk. Cecil Foster is back.
“Independence” can be viewed as a sequel to “No Man in the House”. This new work is set in the independence period, 1966-67, when Britain was sloughing off its colonial possessions, each new nation state getting a flag and an anthem. Those of you who lived through those years of outward euphoria know that behind those celebrating scenes there were hard realities to be faced, again with national economy the most pressing and troublesome. Life, before and after the Union Jack pretty well remains the same.
Politicians resort to dressing up their own limited capabilities, making promises that are almost impossible to keep. It is the ordinary man and woman who have to face personal independence, not a rosy future.
From the perspective of these folk in nondescript villages, national independence is just a backdrop to their continuing daily lives, still the ritual of putting food on the table, making do with little, and yet somehow preserve a dignified life that “we shall not succumb”
The entire story’s narrative, in rich Caribbean English, is through the eyes of a then young Christopher Lucas, thirteen going on fourteen. Keeping him straight and narrow is his grandmother. No popular Afro hairstyle is allowed, just the daily pomade and a visible part, creased pants and polished shoes to show he is a respectable boy. His junior academics and natural talent for cricket is where he soars; the reader cheers him on. They look out forlornly for the postman, waiting and hoping for an envelope with money from Christopher’s mother.
But they must deal with the present, their impecunious circumstances; income derived from raising chickens, pigs, and the all-important Saturday selling of blood pudding, baked bread and souse down in the village. The close next door friendship with Mrs. King and her granddaughter Stephanie is integral to Christopher’s world.
It is the friendship with Stephie that determines his coming and going, a domestic schooling that opens up a young man’s development in that pre-sexual stage. All the same, she is maturing faster than him, physically and socially, with an outcome testing his mettle, either as a betrayal, or just an acceptance of what must come to pass in that fecund tropical sexual world.
The lives among neighbours, villagers, their concerns, their religion, the new TV, gossip, making a living, all carry the story forward, a moving tableau of rural actors who expound on their view of things. At times, a natural universal philosophy makes them just as important as in any part of the globe. It’s the circumstances which draw them back into pettiness.
“Over’- n’- away” is where the action is, the migrant labourers experience it, but what is central for the locals, is how much is earned abroad. It determines food on the table and business in the rum shop.
Crossing all through this is relationships, casual, sexual, economical, blood ties, real and imagined. Christopher in his youthful innocence is a bystander, an observer; one sees that only in his adult years can he look back and disseminate all that went on. To rely on one’s talent is what real independence is. In the end, one is happy for him and Stephanie, but judging from life’s overall experience we are filled with trepidation.
“Independence” by Cecil Foster- Harper Collins, 2013.