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Songster and Other Stories

Authors: Jennifer Rahim

Published by Peepal Tree Press

ISBN: 9781845230487

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Rahim’s stories move between the present and the past to make sense of the tensions between image and reality in contemporary Trinidad. The contemporary stories show the traditional, communal world in retreat before the forces of local and global capitalism.

A popular local fisherman is gunned down when he challenges the closure of the beach for a private club catering to white visitors and the new elite; the internet becomes a rare safe place for an AIDS sufferer to articulate her pain; cocaine has become the scourge even of the rural communities. But the stories set thirty years earlier in the narrating ‘I’s’ childhood reveal that the ‘old-time‘ Trinidad was already breaking up. The old pieties about nature symbolised by belief in the presence of the folk-figure of ‘Papa Bois’ are powerless to prevent the ruthless plunder of the forests; communal stability has already been uprooted by the pulls towards emigration, and any sense that Trinidad was ever edenic is undermined by images of the destructive power of alcohol and the casual presence of paedophilic sexual abuse.

Rahim’s Trinidad, is though, as her final story makes clear, the creation of a writer who has chosen to stay, and she is highly conscious that her perspective is very different from those who have taken home away in a suitcase, or who visit once a year. Her Trinidad is ‘not a world in my head like a fantasy’, but the island that ‘lives and moves in the bloodstream’. Her reflection on the nature of small island life is as fierce and perceptive as Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, but comes from and arrives at a quite opposite place. What Rahim finds in her island is a certain existential insouciance and the capacity of its people, whatever their material circumstance, to commit to life in the knowledge of its bitter-sweetness.

Jennifer Rahim is Trinidadian. She also writes short fiction and criticism. She is currently Senior Lecturer at The Liberal Arts Department, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad.
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