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  • Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction by Elena Machado Sáez
  • Sofia Tirado (bio)
Sáez, Elena Machado. Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2015.

Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction examines Caribbean diasporic literature from Britain, Canada, and the United States, primarily works of historical fiction. Elena Machado Sáez frames her analysis by speaking to the interrelated systems of globalization and multiculturalism, and explaining how both have resulted in the erasure of historical context, especially with regards to the Caribbean diaspora. With this background in mind, the book’s five chapters and conclusion go on to illustrate how Caribbean diasporic historical fiction often works to give context to certain histories, even [End Page 227] as these texts circulates within the decontextualizing forces of globalization and multiculturalism. In some texts, as shown in chapters 2 and 3, decontextualization is encoded in the aesthetics of the novel through historical gaps and silences that both the narrator and the readers journey to fill.

Throughout the book, Sáez attentively draws on the critical reception and market success of the works to understand how texts reach certain audiences. Due to this approach, Sáez’s research offers a critical insight into the role of the market in Caribbean diasporic literature, particularly regarding the tension between an author’s ethical commitment to historical revision and the market’s pressure to commodify a certain kind of multiculturalism. Sáez has a keen understanding of the relationship between the market, readerships, and the aesthetics of texts, and in chapter 1 she even looks to the role that academia plays in privileging certain forms of writing over others. The key concept of the work, “market aesthetics,” seems to develop various shades of meaning throughout the book, making it occasionally difficult to follow how Sáez is employing the term. Though the term “market aesthetics” would benefit from being fleshed out more fully, Sáez provides an important perspective into the way in which the form, structure, and content of Caribbean diasporic texts suggests an awareness and understanding of the forces of market demands.

After examining how Caribbean diasporic writers manage their ethical obligations as “representative voice(s) of Caribbean culture,” Sáez offers a fascinating analysis of the role of author- and reader-doubles in chapters 2 and 3 (34). In chapter 3, “Writing the Reader: Literary and Contradictory Pedagogies in Julia Alvarez, Michelle Cliff, and Marlon James,” Sáez explores how the author-double in the literary texts can both voice the author’s ethical concerns and reveal the author’s own pedagogical approach to teaching history. Sáez then considers how the pedagogical approach in the depicted student-teacher relationship compares to the author’s own pedagogical approach as evidenced by the structure of the novel.

In this chapter, as well as throughout the work, Sáez widens the scope of analysis by looking at the context of the work and the writers themselves. By referring to these contexts, Sáez presents important background for how the author-doubles in the work experience and voice similar concerns as the authors themselves. To understand the varying pedagogical approaches depicted by the author-doubles and the authors themselves, Sáez draws on Gilberto Freyre’s dichotomy between a banking approach to knowledge vs. a “problem-posing” model. For instance, Julia Alvarez’s In the Name of Salomé shows contradictory pedagogical approaches: while the characters are depicted teaching through a “problem-posing” method of teaching, the novel’s structure reveals a “banking” approach, whereby the reader is not encouraged to process or question what the text puts forth. In the Name of Salomé’s approach to teaching, Sáez argues, suggests that the imagined readers are not familiar with the historical context of the text, and are thus envisioned as “empty vessels that must be filled with comparative analyses of history” (91).

While the first half of the book centers on how the various pedagogical imperatives of authors are reflected in the structure and content of the text, the second half of the book looks...