Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

His Master's Voice

Academic journal article Journal of Caribbean Literatures

His Master's Voice

Article excerpt

In overlooking, denying, evading his [man's] complexity--which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves--we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves. (Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son 15)

The Book

In the summer of 2003 I was coming out of the shopping precinct in Colwyn Bay on the North Wales coast when my eye caught something before my brain registered it. It was a book lying spine facing on a small shelf unit outside a second hand bookshop. I walked slowly toward it as one compelled to do so, as though I were awakened to and drawn in, as a person in an unconscious trance.

The closer I moved toward this book it slowly became clear what it was. There on the 50p shelf was a copy of my father's first novel--Other Leopards. I picked up the familiar dark green volume and stared at the dry, yellowing pages. I never did like dry paper. I noticed the smell of the pages and the print. I was suddenly scared, enthusiastic, and overcome all at once as though I were still a child. Remembering myself, I struggled to open my purse, took out a 50p coin, and entered the darkness of the shop.

"This is my father's book!" I said with childish excitement to the bookseller, who seemed to be taken aback by my presence. "I didn't have a copy and now I have!"

He took the book and looked it over as though he were looking for some sign, for some evidence of value that he might have overlooked. He stared at the picture on the back cover, opened the first few pages, and saw that it was a first edition but it still made no difference. It clearly meant nothing to him.

"He used to live here in Wales!" I blurted. But it was no use. I might as well have been talking to myself. He wasn't going to share my shock and enthusiasm. He hadn't heard of my father, and that was that.

I rode back home to Llandudno on my bike, musing on the strangeness of coming across the book like that. I had never owned a copy, although I had read it once before. Memories, images, and words flooded my brain; the chaos of the past, like water, rushed in for examination. I recalled my fear, the abject terror I had of him. I laughed to myself at the emotional resonance of memory, of experience, of being frightened. This book, these words, and the images they conveyed could do little to influence me anymore.

I knew though that life was affording me the opportunity to put the past to rest so I could seek a resolution. I needed to look at this writing, and also the life that had brought this into being, but all I had to go on were fading memories and worn out images and the book before me.

Ambiguity

My first recollection of my father writing was in Africa. He used to carry a journal everywhere with him that he treated with a great deal of importance. He was clearly very attached to it, and always tucked it under his arm as though it were a part of him. This black journal was his secret garden. Its contents weren't neat and ordered; it was a patchwork of disorder, the food of creativity. He wrote in this journal in English and French with an old-fashioned pen, which he also used to make the small illustrations.

On one particular occasion, as our family returned to Khartoum after visiting his friends who lived in the desert, he discovered that he didn't have his journal. In the blackness of the night and where there were no roads, he turned the Land Rover about to look for his missing love. Unfortunately, he never found it. Looking back, I am amazed by his courage at travelling the desert highway with only a compass and the stars to guide him.

When I was about six or seven I used to go and sit under his desk while he wrote, hoping that he would talk to me. In the noisy stillness I would crouch down, listening to the thunder of the typewriter above me, the constant whirr of the ceiling fan, while staring out the verandah doors at the parched garden grass. …

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