Based on the modern metric of ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences, this novel’s young protagonist, Scott MacDonald, should expect an addictive adulthood. His father was a drunk, and his father’s father was a drunk. Scott often didn’t have enough to eat and had to wear his cousin Oliver’s hand-me-down clothes. Scott saw his mother get slapped around, yet despite having 4 children to think about, Mommy did not leave his father. Dad caused the deaths of the children’s pets: First Trini, the pigeon that flew to Grenada from Trinidad, and later Rex, the dog that Mr. Farrow gave the kids to protect them.
We know now IRL that even one ACE can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 20 years, and Scott has more bad luck to dodge than even that. A murderer called Planass, who keeps getting released from prison early by a corrupt government, has it in for Scott and his brother Rodney due to unresolved issues with their father, Hector MacDonald.
You know that bit in the Bible in Exodus (and Numbers and Deuteronomy and Jeremiah) where it says, “And the sins of the father shall be visited upon the children, unto the third and the fourth generation…”?) Besides thinking that was massively unfair, I used to think it referred to genetic diseases like diabetes. Not in this novel. In this novel it is a curse, visited upon General Malcolm MacDonald when he defeated a Grenada slave revolt led by Frenchman Julien Fedon.
Fedon’s revenge was to curse his family from 1795 unto the present day…actually seven or eight generations I believe.
Poor old Scott is a pretty nice guy, but his Dad Hector is an abusive drunk who has caused his family to hate him. Of course, he has plenty of pain in his own past. Pa, the grandfather, was a man everyone hated. They are all outcasts from Belvidere, the Fedon family plantation on the island. Looming over everything is Mount Qua Qua where Fedon was defeated and disappeared. Because his body was never found, the legend is that the black magic he learned from his Yoruba grandmother, brought from Nigeria as a slave woman, allowed him to escape and to live forever. He is said to roam the island on stormy nights on his white horse.
The 4 children’s only protector on the island is Neil Farrow, a one-legged elderly black man who spent 3 years in a British prison for saving a white officer’s life. “They wanted us to dig trenches; they didn’t want black Grenadians killing white Germans,” he explains. (Blew my mind; obviously true.) Mr. Farrow lives next door to the MacDonalds and is the self-appointed guardian of the children. There is some unexplained black magic there. And hints that he is somehow wrapped up in, or perhaps related to, the legend of Fedon.
Grenada on the World Stage
I never understood why we (the USA) parachuted into Grenada in 1983. There was Vietnam before I was born and then our embassy in Iraq was seized and Canada hid the hostages next door, and then suddenly this island I never heard of was in the news. Why? I think it had to do with Ronald Reagan’s fear of Communism. That sucks.
When you hear the word Grenada, you probably think of Spain. The island was briefly claimed for Spain when Christopher Columbus sailed past it, but it was the home of Arawak Indians for 1,000 years before that. It is thought the Arawaks fled to the island in canoes from the Amazon during tribal warfare. They lived for an era the length of the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, before the Carib Indians found them and invaded. The Caribs lived on Granada for 500 years before the Europeans came, fighting amongst themselves for control. The French held the island for awhile before the British took it eventually ceded it to the native Grenadians. Then there was big trouble.
In the novel, one of the villains driving the story engine is Gabbard, a pig of a man who seized control of Grenada in the wake of its independence from Britain. This piece of work is a living embodiment of the proverb that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Yet Gabbard identifies with the national hero Fedon, claiming everything he does is “for God and Fedon”. IRL Fedon, the son of a French Catholic plantation owner and a free Colored mulatto woman, would have hated him. Gabbard’s chief henchmen are Planass and Rabid, bad men who killed the father of Scott’s girlfriend as he smuggled rum from Venezuela into the island (he was cutting into their profits).
This novel was a good read, in which the day-to-day lives of ordinary Grenadians like the village’s two World War I veterans, were seamlessly interwoven with larger national events.
I got a real feel for Grenada from this novel:
- The smell of mangoes and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, without which Scott has a hard time sleeping
- The sounds of Chinatown, where the prostitutes roam and the men drink shots of rum and cans of Carib beer
- The sincere efforts of the students to follow in the footsteps of Castro and the Communist Revolution in Cuba, just as their ancestors were inspired by the French Revolution
- The struggles of women to become independent from abusive men (emotionally and financially)
- The efforts of the descendants of slaves, indentured servants, and their oppressors to free themselves from the long shadows of the past
Rating: Five bowls of spicy fish stew with figs!