On my Bookshelf
Published on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 4:44pm
How could a book with a cover this intriguing not be a good read? Note the brightly colored costume and the man, mid-stride, as he makes his way down what I can only assume is a busy, inner city street, pitchfork in hand.
Earl Lovelace’s 1979 novel The Dragon Can't Dance, however, is more the story of a community than a single person. At the center of the piece is Aldrick Prospect, a man well-known throughout his corner of Port of Spain, Trinidad for the elaborate dragon costume that he carefully constructs and dons each Carnival season. Aldrick’s dedication to the costume changes, however, as he begins to grow into an awareness of himself and his place in the community around him. There in Calvary Hill also lives Sylvia, the young woman who bewitches not only Aldrick, but almost all of the men on the hill; Fisheye, the hill’s “bad John” whose desire to belong to something bigger than himself leads him closer and closer to self-destruction; Ms. Cleothilda, the neighborhood busybody; Philo, the budding Calypso singer whose fame and fortune eventually alienates him from all that he’s ever known; Pariag, the man of East Indian heritage whose desire to fit in makes him that much more of a pariah; and a host of others.
Lovelace’s lyrical prose style and dedication to infusing Trinidadian vernacular throughout his work held me captive as I made my way through the novel. Though the early part of the book is dedicated to helping the reader understand just how much the characters’ lives are intertwined, the bulk of the work — raw and honest in its depiction of personal and community struggle — invite the reader to understand more and more about the problems that plagued Trinidadian society in the 1960s and 70s, which likely still exist under the surface today.
Interested? Check it out! And if it turns out that Lovelace is the writer for you, don’t miss his 1997 work entitled Salt: A Novel — winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. A New York Times review called it “a West Indian novel of generous, torrential prose.”
See you around the library soon!