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The Dragon Can't Dance [Hardcover]

Earl Lovelace
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1998
Lovelace's classic novel of Carnival. Carnival takes on social and political importance in this recognized classic. The people of the shantytown Calvary Hill, usually invisible to the rest of society, join the throng and flaunt their neighborhood personas in masquerade during Carnival. Aldrick, the dashing "king of the Hill," becomes a glorious, dancing dragon; his lovely Sylvia, a princess; Fisheye, rebel idealist, a fierce steel band contestant; and Philo, Calypso songwriter, a star. Then a business sponsors Fisheye's band, Philo gets a hit song, and Sylvia leaves the Hill with a prosperous older man. For Aldrick, it will take one more masquerade—this time, involving guns and hostages—before the illusion of power becomes reality.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

The lilting, metallic harmonies of steel drums and the musical rhythm of Trinidadian Creole patois are elegantly rendered by consummate Caribbean man-of-letters Lovelace (Salt) in this novel, published in England in 1979. As always, Lovelace is concerned with how West Indian men and women struggle to find their individual identities in the face of dehumanizing living conditions, and how they resist cultural assimilation. For two days a year, the festival-parade of Carnival allows struggling Trinidadians to forget their poverty and embrace the frenzy and glory that masquerade provides. For the hilltop shack communities that dot the outskirts of Port-of-Spain, Carnival takes on mythic proportions. The respect that hustler Aldrick gains for his portrayal of an intricately scaled dragon carries him through the year. But the old order is fading: aging Carnival queen Cleothilde is forced to give way to beautiful, free-spirited Sylvia; drummer Fisheye fights to preserve his pride; and corporate sponsors rush to profit from Carnival and do away with its old customs of warriorhood between rival bands in favor of a more tourist-friendly version of the festivities. Conflicts arise when whose who resist control by the corporations alienate neighbors by challenging the inevitable commercialization of Carnival. Kaleidoscopically colorful characters and a faithful ear help make this quest for personhood one of Lovelace's best works.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Distinguished Trinidadian novelist Lovelace writes fiction as syncopated, sinuous, and irresistible as the calypso music that punctuates the lives of his poor but proud characters. Here, as he did in the award-winning Salt , Lovelace peers beneath the rigid structure of island society into the desiring hearts of men and women struggling for recognition, respect, and love. Carnival season has just begun in Calvary Hill, a Port of Spain shantytown, and Miss Cleothilda, the carnival queen, and Aldrick, the dragon king, try to concentrate on creating their elaborate costumes, but both are distracted by a young beauty named Sylvia. The queen senses a rival, and Aldrick, famous for his avoidance of work and marriage, feels love coming on. Conflict also drives Fisheye, a warrior without a cause whose restlessness infects his fellow drummers to the point that their steel bands become veritable street gangs, and Pariag, the only Indian on the Hill and the most ambitious and innocent of the lot. As Lovelace masterfully choreographs the dance of each of his finely drawn characters, he reveals the conundrums not only of Caribbean life but of the human condition itself. Donna Seaman

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Customer Reviews

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5.0 out of 5 stars Identity through the Masquerade June 9 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
In this lyrically written novel, Earl Lovelace introduces us to the Hill, a poor community just outside Trinidad's capital Port-of-Spain. The people in this community leave behind their daily suffering to celebrate wildly the two-day festival that is Carnival. Through "playing mas," each of the text's central character finds sustenance to endure the rest of the year; the characters they play inform how they see themselves the rest of the year. Fisheye, a badjohn, joins the neighborhood gang violence that characterized early steelpan culture. Miss Cleothilde, a mulatto, plays queen for two days but reigns over the community for the entire year. Aldrick, the text's main protagonist, plays dragon. In doing so, he sees himself as a warrior, carrying on the traditions of manhood established for him by the men before him. However, as the culture changes, Aldrick must re-evaluate what playing the dragon really means.
This is a fabulous novel, written in a style reminiscent of calypso music. Lovelace weaves a tale that explains so much about Caribbean culture and the need for its people to be seen and validated by others. A must read for anyone interested in Caribbean literature and culture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT & TOUCHING NOVEL March 28 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Unlike the two reviewers below, who are from Trinidad, I cannot speak to this novel's authenticity. However, as a middle-aged white American male, I can affirm it's universality and greatness. This unique and beautifully written novel took me into an alien world and made it real and comprehensible. The characters are memorable and specific to their environment, yet universal in their emotions. I identified with so many of these Trinidad slum dwellers. The novel is funny, touching, sad, uplifting. Though very different, it's emotional impact on me was equivalent to "Catcher in the Rye" and "To Kill A Mockingbird." I will never forget the people I met in this extraordinary novel. If you wish to be transported and transformed, be sure to read it. I can't recommend it too highly.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The Carnival masquerader in Trinidad is a fanatic. I remember as a child a neighbor of mine built a masquerade costume in his home. After completion he found that the front door was too small to permit the costume to go through. What did he do? He broke down the door and said: "Ash Wednesday I will fix it back." That is the character that the protagonist reminded me of. The book brought back memories of my childhood spent in Trinidad around carnival time. Every Trinbagonian should read this book. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters. It was a lovely book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I felt as if I was back In TRINI March 3 2002
Format:Hardcover
I loved this book so much that I recommended it to all my family and friends. Earl Lovelace captured everything that Carnival means for Trini people. The characters are so real that the faces that I chose to see them as, were faces of people that I actaully knew in my family. LOL. This novel will make all readers want to take a trip to Trinidad and experience life there. This book is just too sweet for words!!!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Double Vision in Carnival April 25 2003
Format:Hardcover
The "double vision" of Caribbean life is portrayed in the life of Aldrick who is caught between generational and cultural conflicts. And all of this during Carnival! The Dragon Can't Dance was almost prophetic in the depiction of the commercialization of Mas. Change always brings choice and Lovelace's characters highlight the necessary pain that comes with any decision.
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