Critics on Caribbean Women Writers of Fiction

Article excerpt

Brinda Mehta, NOTIONS OF IDENTITY, DIASPORA, AND GENDER IN CARIBBEAN WOMEN'S WRITING. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 242p. notes, bibl. index. $85.00, ISBN 978-0230618817.

Florence Ramond Jurney, REPRESENTATION OF THE ISLAND IN CARIBBEAN LITERATURE: CARIBBEAN WOMEN REDEFINE THEIR HOMELANDS. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009. 208p. $109.95, ISBN 978-0773449091.

Chantal Kalisa, VIOLENCE IN FRANCOPHONE AFRICAN AND CARIBBEAN WOMEN'S LITERATURE. Omaha, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 236p. $45.00, ISBN 978-0803211025.

Keshia N. Abraham, ed., THE CARIBBEAN WOMAN WRITER AS SCHOLAR: CREATING, IMAGINING, THEORIZING. Coconut Creek, FL: Caribbean Studies Press, 2009. 462p. pap., $40.00, ISBN 978-1584325659.

During the late 1950s, Caribbean literature gained stature as literary presses in London and Paris responded to waves of West Indian immigrants whose ethnic communities steadily changed the fabric of metropolitan societies. Published in English, French, and local Creole dialects, Caribbean literature questioned European intellectual culture and its pursuant patterns of racial discrimination, all the while calling for a poetics embracing the local needs of developing nations. Few texts by women writers were published then, and even fewer received critical attention. Phyllis Allfrey's The Orchid House (1953), Sylvia Wynter's The Tales of Hebron (1962), Louise Bennett's Jamaica Labrish (1966), and Jean Rhys's The Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) brought feminist views of societies still suffering from a shared history of colonialism, slavery, and political servitude. Concurrently, the works of Cuban feminist poet and translator Nancy Morejon saw publication in the 1960s. Bur it wasn't until an English translation of Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing (1985) (1) that women writers of the Hispanic Caribbean gained a small but vital international audience. Rosario Ferre and Ana Lydia Vega challenged masculinist literary works in short stories and novels in small Puerto Rican presses in the 1970s and 1980s. Guadalupe's Maryse Conde published Heremakhonon and other works in the mid-1970s and 1980s, bringing Francophone Caribbean women's lives into the limelight. Since then, Caribbean writers, struggling with concepts of belonging, have produced a body of literature that asserts authentic national voices while, at the same time, embodies fluid identities tied to gender, race, and political and transnational positionality. If one were to compare Louis James's seminal The Islands in Between: Essays on West Indian Literature (1968), (2) which focused on male authors, with today's publications, one would immediately notice that twenty-first-century literary criticism has come a long way in celebrating diverse women's voices.

Two thousand nine was a good publication year for Caribbean women's literary studies. Of the four books under review here--all of which analyze Caribbean women's writing and scholarship through a global prism--some miss the mark of brilliance, but all offer important insight into the fractured nature of a Caribbean identity born out of many diasporas.

Let's start with one of the best new critical perspectives on gender and transnationalism in Caribbean women's literature. In its examination of female Francophone writers, Brinda Mehta's Notions of Identity, Diaspora, and Gender stands at the forefront of a new crop of publications about a literature that is rooted in a long history of inter-regional, inter-hemispheric, and international migration. Five chapters and an introduction explore five major writers from Martinique and Guadeloupe (French colonial departments) as well as Haiti (by 1804, the Western hemispheres second independent nation): Maryse Conde, Gisele Pineau, Evelyn Trouillot, Laure Moutossamy, and Edwidge Danticat. All but Danticat (a U.S. citizen embracing a Haitian identity) employ the Francophone Caribbean's "mother tongue" of Creole and French. …