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Reviewed by:
  • The Trinidad Awakening: West Indian Literature of the Nineteen-Thirties
  • Ewart Skinner
Reinhard Sander. The Trinidad Awakening: West Indian Literature of the Nineteen-Thirties. New York: Greenwood, 1988. 168 pp. $37.95.

In his 1987 Introduction to The Trinidad Labour Riots of 1937, Lloyd Braithwaite remarked that the events of June 1937 "became the concentrated essence of a hundred years." Such was the socio-political importance of the 1930s for Trinidad and Tobago, the focus of Sander's study. The nascency of the colony's written literature, the ideological engagement of the seminal literary magazines at the time (The Beacon [1931-1933] and Trinidad [1929-1930]), and the activism of Trinidad and Tobago's foremost, proemial authors, Alfred H. Mendes, C. L. R. James, and Ralph de Boissiere, form the trine critical aspects of Sander's work.

Sander's prescience underscores his authority and long involvement with Caribbean literary matters. The Trinidad Awakening legitimates the period for literature and communication scholarship. But historians, economists, and sociologists—Brinsley Samaroo, Bridget Brereton, and Roy Thomas, among others—have previously documented the importance of print media at the turn of the century.

Although insightful and informative, and although it includes a comprehensive review of Caribbean literature, this work should not substitute for Kenneth Ramchand's, Bruce King's or Michael Gilkes' analyses of West Indian literature. [End Page 239] 239 Here, historic detail is added. Personalities are developed, and literary form compared with other local, cultural texts: "both calypsos and short stories of the 1930s frequently have the same element of reversal in their surprise endings."

The chapter, "The Background: Trinidad 1919-1938," sketches the major political personalities and social environment of the 1920s and the fate of national radicalism after the 1930s but is too scant to be of definitive historical interest. More informative is the chapter, "The Magazines: Trinidad and The Beacon." The analysis here is based on primary sources and personal interviews with Sander's subject authors, an unlikely cadre of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, working together to define the intellectual tenor of the colony.

The chapters dealing with "short fiction," the "barrack yard genre," and those dedicated to Mendes, James, and de Boissiere are the most authoritative. Focusing on literature, Sander conveys with sensitivity the lower-class, barrack-yard realism and its lively, pungent diction that was the source of much of the ethos of the emerging literature. A minor disappointment is that while Sander locates the "manifestos" in which the "Beacon Group" set out its theoretical demands for indigenous literature (aesthetic integrity, linguistic realism, social accuracy), he concludes with a too brief discussion of thematic and linguistic influences which the 1930s lent to those who, writing in the 1950s, were able to establish international reputations.

The study contains a useful, three-part bibliography with primary, general, and background sources and criticism. Compiling reliable bibliographic sources in Caribbean studies is a task not to be underrated. The region does not generously yield of its primary sources, nor is it easy to trace and credit copyright owners. This truism accentuates the real contribution any thoroughly researched, smartly written study makes to Caribbean scholarship; the literary scholar must be historian as well as sociologist.

Ewart Skinner
Purdue University


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pp. 239-240
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