Tag Archives: My Brother

Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed XII

This picks up where the previous installments of Antigua and Barbuda Literary Works Reviewed pages left off (use the search feature to the right to dig them up). As with those earlier pages, it features reviews about A & B writings that I come across as I dig through my archives or surf the web. You’re welcome to send any credible/professional reviews that you come across as well. They’re not in any particular order, I just add them as I add them; some will be old, some will be new. It’s all shared in an effort to underscore, emphasize, and insist on Antigua and Barbuda’s presence in the Caribbean literary canon.

“fascinating story” – on Man of Her Dreams in In the Black: New African Canadian Literature reviewed in Canada’s Herald Arts and Life

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“Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse imbues her Mondays are Murder yarn with domesticity-not the fuzzy, familial kind, but the ominous underbelly of fraught marital disharmony.” – Sunday Arts, Trinidad, re The Cat has Claws short story from Akashic’s Mondays are Murder series

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Round up of some Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean which includes ‘Amelia at Devil’s Bridge’ by Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua and Barbuda: “…wonderful anthology of fresh voices from the Caribbean . . . includes writers from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago” (Booklist) … “Strong contributions from Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Barbados make the collection a regionally consistent showing in nascent talent…” (Caribbean Beat) … “This story felt so light and read so smoothly. Hillhouse captured nuance in such a beautiful way. … It’s a layered, mysterious tale that explores Amelia’s family life.” (African Book Addict) … “At their best, the writers use their imagery not only to illuminate the experiences of their characters but also to share specific details about their worlds. So, for example, we read in Ivory Kelly’s ‘This Thing We Call Love’ of conversations that ‘were like boil-up, with plantains and cassava and other kinds of ground food and salted meat thrown into a pot of water, in no particular order, and boiled until the pot is a steaming, bubbling, savoury cuisine’, or in Joanne C. Hillhouse’s own ‘Amelia at Devil’s Bridge’ about rocks that ‘are sharper than a coconut vendor’s cutlass’.” (A Year of Reading the World) … “Readers will enjoy the characters’ interesting awareness of dialect and ways the writers use their Antillean setting.  …One character [Amelia in Amelia at Devil’s Bridge] laments how completely a father can disappear on a small island.” (La Bloga) … “I also liked Amelia at Devil’s Bridge and The Monkey Trap.” (andrewhideo.com) … “A few of my favorites are REVERSAL OF FORTUNES” by Kevin Baldeosingh (Trinidad & Tobago) …ALL THE SECRET THINGS NO-ONE EVER KNOWS” by Sharon Leach (Jamaica) …AMELIA” by Joanne C. Hillhouse (Antigua & Barbuda) …FATHER, FATHER” by Garfield Ellis (Jamaica) …Pepperpot is an eclectic mix of adventure, humor, the spirit world, family relationships, and other subject matters …I recommend this collection of short stories to readers who enjoy a mixture of subject matter in a single sitting.” (Ski-wee’s Book Corner)

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Describing this book as a post-colonial, feminist novel examining the immigrant experience in North America – a valid description! – might easily make the novel sound both heavy and off-putting. Instead, it is a beautifully constructed, intensely readable account of an girl on the brink of adulthood interrogating her assumptions about the world and, importantly, the assumptions of those around her. – Imogen Gladman, UK editor, on Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy.

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Dancing Nude in the Moonlight is a story of love between cultures. It goes in depth into the hardships and tensions of immigrant life in Antigua…The writer of this novel, Joanne C. Hillhouse, clearly wrote this novel for readers of romance. Not only that, but she seeks to evoke the themes of racism and love in this novel. Love is slowly nurtured between a single mother and an aimless ‘has been’ Antiguan cricketer who turns out to have an unexpected talent for sports commentary… When the Antiguan Michael meets Selena it is love at first sight for him, but Selena has been too deeply hurt by misplaced love in the past and Michael must take his time to ‘woo’ her with much understanding.” – Convent High School, Dominica, 2009 

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“Upon reading the first page of Hillhouse’s second novel, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell to the back of my head like dice. I continued, though, because someone I respect had read the book and had good things to say about it. What I discovered was an honest tale about Selena and Michael, two imperfect people who try to love each other as best as they can, while battling all kinds of odds…The novel shows that self-knowledge and self-love need to be alive and well in two people before they decide to build a life together. What happens in the moonlight may not survive the heat of the noonday sun. These are hard lessons for the characters but they’re worth learning because of the stakes involved. In this regard, the question in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight isn’t ‘Can love win?’ Instead, it’s more like ‘How can love win against great odds?’ Hillhouse’s answer satisfied me.” – @ Love in the Time of Cricket by Nadine Tomlinson, 2018

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“I am usually not a big fan of romance novels, but Joanne Hillhouse’s novels also engage the reader in the island’s socio-political history. As a result, we come away with knowledge that is reflective of the larger Caribbean story. I have lived away from the Caribbean for many decades and reading her novels take me home. I learn a little more about who I am. This novel, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, though fiction, touches on our realities and personal histories. It is the story of broken relationships seeking a path to healing. It is the story of people trying to make themselves whole again. We should bare our souls in order to reveal who we are. We should ‘dance more often in the moonlight.’” – Althea Romeo-Mark, author of The Nakedness of New

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“It was refreshing…the characters were genuine and easy to identify with.” – Daily Observer, 2004, re Dancing Nude in the Moonlight

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Dancing Nude in the Moonlight creates so much depth for its characters that all subplots work together, producing a fantastic fusion of lives that are indeed real. At no time do we get the feeling that ‘this can’t possibly happen’. We can relate to the situations as either clips of our lives, or the lives of people we’ve known or have seen. Turning the last page is almost like saying a final farewell to friends who you won’t see again, but will miss terribly. The emotions of the characters, their ups, their downs, their responses to their situations are so real, you read on because you’re genuinely concerned, you want to know what will happen…For me, personally, it falls into the league of Zee Edgell, Merle Hodge, V. S. Reid, Samuel Selvon and the like, whose novels have found a place on the West Indian category of the English B (Literature) CXC syllabus.” – Antigua Sun, 2008

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“…a snapshot of what social interaction is/was like in Antigua and Barbuda during a specific period of time. Through the pages of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight future generations will find not just a love story, but a love story that represents one aspect of the nation’s evolution into a multicultural society.” – Antigua Sun, 2008

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“Likewise, Joanne C. Hillhouse’s 2003 Dancing Nude in the Moonlight and Jamaica Kincaid’s 1997 My Brother leave me awestruck on every re-read by evidence of the crucial role postcolonial literary producers play in setting the agenda for the still fledgling fields of Caribbean gender and sexuality theory. Hillhouse’s and Kincaid’s deconstruction of Antiguan patriarchy not only destabilizes past bad-minded scholarship on family and gender relations in the region. They also offer caution to future scholarship on Caribbean gender and sexuality. The texts assert the necessity of grounding Afro-Antiguan/Caribbean masculinities within the appropriate historical and social sites/matrices. This, they suggest, will produce non-bad-minded accounts of Antiguan and Caribbean expressions of masculinity. Moreover, Kincaid’s My Brother conducts an important probing of the compulsory heterosexuality underpinning Antiguan patriarchy. It also intervenes into the silence around HIV-AIDS and the experiences of men/those living with the disease in the region.” – from Discretely Antiguan and Distinctly Caribbean by Dr. Hazra Medica, in the Tongues of the Ocean Antigua and Barbuda issue

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In 2020, Kirkus Reviews gave Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Musical Youth a starred review and named it to its top 100 Indie books of the year, and to its lists of top Indie romances. and top Indie teen/young adult novels. As such, it is featured in the year end issue of the critical magazine.

“A charming and edifying work with a romance that will make YA fans swoon.”

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Reading Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother as a Testimonium

Recently (May 2012), I presented at the 13th annual conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and  Scholars, and perhaps more importantly had the opportunity to be present for a number of presentations by women reading and writing on Caribbean literature from various parts of the world. And in the weird way that the world has of drawing people to each other, France-based, Yale educated scholar Victoria Bridges Moussaron and Antigua-based University of the West Indies educated writer Joanne C. Hillouse were drawn to each other. Perhaps our shared appreciation for the writing of Jamaica Kincaid had a little something to do with it. Victoria has graciously agreed to share a portion of her presentation with the blog’s readers (this is from a section that would have been published in the Surinamese press) and may be of interest to Kincaid scholars. Thanks, Victoria.

Reading Jamaica Kincaid’s My Brother as a Testimonium

 by Victoria Bridges Moussaron

            Jamaica Kincaid grew up in Ovals, Antigua and was sent off to New York as an aupair. While there, she studied photography and then, through a chance encounter, began to write for the New Yorker and on her own. She is now widely read and taught.  Kincaid has written My Brother as a meditation on diaspora not from within a logical narrative, but from within feelings of life collapsing “as he lay dying” of AIDS. The words echoing Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, leave her stunned, unable to make sense of his dying, nor even of these words: “Sometimes when I was sitting with him, in the first few days of my seeing him for the first time after such a long time, seeing him just lying there, dying faster than most people, I wanted to run away, I would scream in my head” (22-3). This collapse of the ordinary connection between words and feelings includes those she uses with him: her quotations of his words are like “Patches,” his nickname, glimpses of who he was.

Writing on testimony, Derrida quotes Celan, “No one  bears witness for the witness.” He speaks of the singularity of the context, of the words and of their untranslatability. These quotations, these “patches,” are singularly Antiguan, singularly Devon’s as he lay dying, crypted in irrecuperably intimate tones as he spoke with her; she, too, is encrypted in them. Each quotation is preceded by a translation: “He said he did not think I would come to see him (“Me hear you a come but me no tink you a come fo’ true”) (9). “Me hear” has to do with hearsay, with the duplicity, the fallibility of the world as he knew it; his adding “fo’ true” makes that all the more poignant. The tragic disconnection that was his life’s situation is lost in translation. By quoting his words, she constitutes a testament for us and a witnessing for him, a testimonium saved from a different diaspora, that of oblivion.

She has, in and through her writing, left a trace, re-collecting him, re-joining him, weaving the words of her memories, of her observations, of stories told her with his own words, letting him speak “as he lay dying,” he who could not write it down. Writing stands as a performance that re-locates her on-going diaspora in relation to Devon’s diaspora: it opens up what has already happened, “continually processing it,” as Miriam Chancy has proposed, rather than its closing down the present and the future. By leaving a testimonium for him – “I will write about his dying…and not die with him” – she performs Celan’s poetic gesture to Tsvetaieva, “I encrypt myself in you.”

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Reflections on Jamaica

by Joanne C. Hillhouse

“Is Jamaica Kincaid from here?”

Jamaica Kincaid (smiling, right) greeting her fans following her reading at the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda in 2005

An acquaintance asked innocently enough. It can be a loaded question in the Antiguan author’s home country. If her critical and critically-acclaimed book, A Small Place, wasn’t enough, Kincaid’s caustic comments about a controversial investor and co-honouree* following Antigua’s 2006 Independence awards certainly underscored that the author hadn’t mellowed with time. Suddenly, even those who’d never read a single word of her writing had an opinion about her perceived island bashing.

Up to and since meeting her for the first time in 2005, when I was invited to introduce her ahead of a political and artistic conference in Antigua, I’m often cast as lawyer for the defense in the not uncommon debates about Jamaica. No unthinking sheep, I have and do disagree with some opinions espoused by the creator of one of my admitted literary heroines Annie John.

But for the young dreamer I once was, the trail blazed by Jamaica Kincaid was among the ripples in a quiet river of hope.

It said, in ways I maybe didn’t even understand then, that it was not crazy to think that the stories I wanted to tell would someday be worthy of their own readers; readers who like me sat in a corner in some corner of the world and floated for hours across borders, centuries, life spans.

It said that it was not impractical or living with my head in the clouds, not even for a little girl of humble means from Ottos, Antigua. After all, Jamaica Kincaid née Elaine Potter Richardson of St. John’s, Antigua had. She was born right here, in 1949. The world she wrote in early work, Annie John, was one I recognized; even the Dominican bits. I’m not talking exclusively about the physical world, but also, the title character’s emotional landscape. I was a teenager at the time, and these words rang true:

“In the year I turned fifteen, I felt more unhappy than I had ever imagined anyone could be. It wasn’t the unhappiness of wanting a new dress, or the unhappiness of wanting to go to cinema on Sunday afternoon and not being allowed to do so, or the unhappiness of being unable to solve some mystery in geometry, or the unhappiness at causing my dearest friend Gwen some pain. My unhappiness was something deep inside of me, and when I closed my eyes I could even see it”. (Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John, P. 85)

I’d read coming of age books, of course, including favourites like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Judy Blume’s Are You there God?  It’s me Margaret, and Stephanie Tolan’s Last of Eden. I’d been entertained and affected by each of these and so many others; all of which in some way tapped into the angst that comes of transitioning from girl to woman – but perhaps none so intimately, for the Antiguan girl transitioning to Antiguan woman, as Annie John.

Also given my own literary ambitions, Annie John carved out a special place, that in time I came to understand fully. It helped remove bars on my world that were as much my own construction as society’s.

Now, I don’t wish to suggest that this was the only significant ripple on my way to becoming a published writer or that it hit me all at once. But, as I prepared my introduction for Jamaica Kincaid’s reading at the aforementioned conference, a rare and remarkable happening at the time, the surreality and nervousness pressing in, it did come home to me in a way. That is the beautiful reality of role models, among which I count literary mothers, aunties and sisters like Zora, Alice, Toni, Edwidge, and fellow Antiguan scribes Althea Prince and D. Gisele Isaac, to name a few. Not that we put them on pedestals; they are, after all, human. But that they show us some spark of what our own talent, hard work, and the right opportunity can create.

Those that go before us, on whose shoulders we stand, remind us that others may not always understand our dream, but then they don’t need to. But we must hold on against all that would deem it the stuff of fairytales.

Of course, Annie John, also resonated because I recognized it; the places, the faces, the scenes, the sentiments.

One of the Annie John scenes that has always lingered with me, I think because of my own sensibility, was from the chapter ‘Columbus in Chains.’ Specifically, Annie’s likening Columbus’ state of being in chains after having fallen from glory as the ‘discoverer’ of this ‘new world’ we inhabit to her mother’s comments about Pa Chess – her mother’s father. “So the great man can no longer just get up and go.” (Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John, P. 78)

It is within a coming of age story that has general appeal, a statement of particular relevance to us as once conquered people watching the conqueror get his comeuppance.

The unresolved and ugly issues lying beneath the Caribbean of white smiles and blue seas was being written into existence; our pain and anger represented and acknowledged. Annie John critiqued our society and its historical and educational legacy, even as it crafted a tale of a girl’s increasing isolation first from the mother and in time from the mother country, Antigua.

Annie John, a Caribbean literary classic, was not the only successful to me flowing from the pen of this most prolific – and certainly most internationally-renowned – of our authors. The list includes Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, My Brother, and Mr. Potter.

Among these, another standout for me has been My Brother. It is one of the two Kincaid books done by the book club of which I am was a part, Sisters with Books. Its raw vision of AIDS in Caribbean life, groundbreaking, I think, at the time, was highly intimate and uncompromisingly frank. Though ostensibly centered on her brother, the gaping divide between mother and daughter, was there, as ever. Throughout her writing life, Kincaid has, relentlessly, mined the terrain of this mother-daughter conflict in exploring female bonding and female isolation, while undoubtedly dealing with her own ghosts.

A Small Place, a stinging non-fiction indictment of colonialism’s effect on Antigua and of Antigua itself, is another book not easily forgotten. As noted, it stirred up bitter feelings between home and the author, in ways Annie John had not – though there are certainly those who’ve taken issue, as well, with Annie John’s portrayal of island life.

I’ve encountered a number of Antiguans who plainly denounce Jamaica – who question her motives, even the truth of her experiences – and others who are conflicted – wondering why she can’t just let go of the past.

For my part, while I don’t always agree with every word, syllable and sentiment, or the propensity of some to ingest indiscriminately everything written as literal gospel, I am not offended the way some others are. And I do take it as a measure of our Independence that when she read at the 2005 conference, Jamaica felt the freedom to read from this same A Small Place, this thorn in so many sides.

Kincaid reads at the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda (2005)

I take it as a measure of our Independence that after that same reading we could stand around speaking of how beautifully she uses words, even as conflict stirred still about the uneasiness evoked by her expressed sentiments. I take it as a measure of our Independence that, after everything, the artiste can be celebrated for her accomplishments on the international literary scene in spite of whatever bitterness the art may have evoked. I take it as a measure of our Independence that we can acknowledge that we are free to disagree.

I think there are as many stories as there are people. And I have argued as well that our artistes cannot and must not simply express the stuff of tourist brochures. Some will paint the pretty pictures and some will paint the darkness they see beneath it; and both have a right to exist.

Jamaica was once quoted as saying, “For me, writing isn’t a way of being public or private; it’s just a way of being. The process is always full of pain, but I like that. It’s a reality, and I just accept it as something not to be avoided. This is the life I have. This is the life I write about.” (Interview with Marilyn Snell in Mother Jones magazine, September/October 1997)

All else aside, I cannot argue with the truth of this. For me the process of writing fiction is a relationship with characters that, as I write them into existence, trust me to be true to their voice and experience – its dark and light places. Even amid the noise of others’ expectations and the challenges of writing home from home.

 *The co-honouree here is, at this writing, facing charges in America and has been stripped of the national honour referenced.

This version of the article was published in the Daily Observer in 2006. An earlier version appeared in St. Lucia’s Island Where magazine. Please do not re-post without the author’s permission. To contact the author, email wadadlipen@yahoo.com or visit http://www.jhohadli.com ETA: email wadadlipen@gmail.com or visit http://jhohadli.wordpress.com

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