A Review by Modeste Downes.
HERE is a writer who is fast developing a reputation for being St. Lucia’s most important storyteller.
Are you vague, ill-informed or lost about a period of your past that you wish you were better acquainted with? Or have you heard of significant events or personalities that influenced the lives and times of an earlier age that are now little known because it was felt that they had better been left alone?
The latest novel by Anderson Reynolds award-winning author of Death by Fire (2001) and The Struggle For Survival: an historical, political and socioeconomic perspective of St. Lucia (2003), offers some consolation in this regard.
It has been erroneously perceived that history is merely the juxtaposition of dry facts, events and dates. On the contrary, as the very name suggests, history is actually the story of the life of a people or civilization at a given point in its evolution.
So the author of “The Stall Keeper” has once again employed his old recipe of using tales that are tantamount to a new approach at documenting and teaching history. Reynolds, the holder of a Doctorate in Food and Resource Economics, has a knack for making the reading of his text all the more palatable by dousing the narrative with doses of adventure, conflict, love and humour.
Viewed from any angle, “The Stall Keeper” is a two-sided narrative: a dramatized history of the period and a love story that grew out of it, intertwined in the saucy tale of the stall keeper, a weird character whose portrayal is arguably (or meant to be) the centerpiece of the novel.
Set in St. Lucia—the south to be exact—during the island’s emerging period of post- colonialism in the 1940s to early 1960s, “The Stall Keeper” brings to life a period when living was difficult; when long and back-breaking hours of manual labour in the sugar fields or vegetable gardens was the order of the day; a time when people went about on horseback and donkey carts, and when only “a generation before, priests passing on horseback were known to horsewhip anyone who hadn’t greeted them with sufficient humility and subservience”; a time when darkness descended quickly on the rural villages, mandating early retirement for want of social activities.
But it was also the time when the Americans, on account of the Second World War, descended upon the island—Vieux Fort in the south, in particular, as well as Gros Islet in the north—like a downpour and occasioned a sudden and turbulent change in the lives of residents.
The novel recalls with great vividness numerous aspects of the social and cultural norms and mores of the time. It is a nostalgic journey back to a time and place when the author was growing up, nothing short of a romantic preoccupation with the past.
(ModesteDownes is the winner of the 2004 George Odlum Award for Creative Artists, and the author of two books of poetry, namely Phases, winner of the 2005 M&C main prize for literature, and Theatre of the Mind, winner of the 2013 National Arts Award for poetry.)