3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Rudolph M Ten-Pow
- Published on Amazon.com
I have just finished reading Corentyne Thunder by the British Guianese writer, Edgar Mittelholzer. Long out of print, it has just been republished by Peepal Tree Press, with an enlightening introduction by Juanita Cox, as part of its Caribbean Modern Classics series. Deservedly so, as this early novel foreshadows the monumental talent that was to emerge from New Amsterdam, the sleepy capital of the "Ancient County" of Berbice, Guyana. Mittelholzer paints with an observant eye and attention to detail the rural world of Indo-Guianese on the Corentyne coast in the 1930s. The human drama of Ramgolall and his daughters is played out against a backdrop of race and class in the then British colony. It is a simple story told about simple people, so it is also a testament to the author's developing skills that the reader is fully invested and his attention held until the tragic but not wholly unexpected denouement.
But while the narrative is well constructed and is brought to a satisfactory conclusion, Corentyne Thunder is nevertheless the work of a writer in the making. His creolese dialogue does not always ring true as that of his more illustrious successor, the Trinidadian V. S. Naipaul, unfailingly does. The narrative is suffused with descriptions of the elements - tropical rain, darkening skies, thunder, lightening - which, in my opinion, he overplays. And I would have liked to see a clearer depiction of the broader social and historical context in which the drama unfolds.
But to anyone who has followed more recent developments in that world on the Corentyne coast that Mittelholzer so trenchantly depicts - the main protagonist's teenage daughters taking their daily baths in a nearby irrigation canal, Ramgolall himself hoarding his life savings in a canister in a doorless hut secure in the belief that "tief na deh hey", the protagonist's son by his first marriage moving seamlessly without any evident preparation from his father's world of rural destitution to success as a businessman and entry through marriage into the colony's moneyed social class - that world now appears quaint and unbelievable, but well worth returning to in the pages of a master storyteller.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
With the exception of "My Bones and My Flute" republished by Longman's in 1986 and reprinted several times since then (evidently for use as a high school textbook), Edgar Mittelholzer's work has been out of print for so long as to have become unknown to generations of Caribbean readers. Hence, Peepal Tree Press must be commended for its decision to republish several of his books (and several other Caribbean classics) in 2009-2010. When one considers that, when this novel was written in 1938, there was virtually no precedent for it because a West Indian literature as such did not yet exist, it's an amazing accomplishment. I read somewhere that Mittelholzer once worked in a meterological office. This may explain his sentivity to weather conditions (the colours of the sky, sunlight, cloud formations, wind conditions, thunder, lightning, rain, etc) which permeates the text and in the context of which the title is well chosen. One could wish that he had devoted a comparable effort to describing the landscape, since the references in the book to canals, trenches, dams, parapets, kokers (sluicegates) and the coastal corida (mangrove) vegetation, may not conjure up an equally true picture of the Corentyne coastlands to anyone who is unfamiliar with the hydraulically engineered character of the Guyanese coast. Nevertheless, one of the most striking things about this book is (with the exception of references to the railway) how accurate the author's depiction of the area still is today, over 70 years later. Moreover (with the exception of the allusions to security of persons and property) the human story at the core of the book is not totally anachronistic. With the exception of the absence today of the white and near-white plantocracy, Mittelholzer's descriptions of the society and personalities in Berbice is evocative of the present situation. In my opinion, the main flaw in the book is the stlited dialogue between members of the elite, the landowner and his Queen's College educated son and his school friend, who are all made to speak like Victorian Englishmen. Evidently, growing up in New Amsterdam, the young Mittelholzer did not mix in such circles. Nevertheless, this book is a good and gripping read.