1950's, book review, books, Caribbean books, Caribbean Books Foundation, Caribbean writers, immigrant, London, opinion, Review, Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indian experience
You can find other novels like this at the Caribbean Books Foundation http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/
HAPPY CARIBBEAN LITERATURE DAY!!
Today is a day for celebrating Caribbean literature! I just came off of a Zoom ‘social distancing party’ for the Inaugural Caribbean Literature Day celebration. How wonderful it was to talk and listen to people who not only love but are passionate about creating and preserving Caribbean literature in all its languages and forms!
When I was in school I was biting my teeth into titles like Green Days By The River, Bite In, and Twice Upon A Time. I love Paul Keens Douglas! To this day his wit and natural ability to turn a limerick and a phrase with the ease of the Trinbagonian dialect still inspires me when writing dialogue.
Now it’s not to say that I never read any international classics as a child. I went through the whole Charles Dickens series in school, and from my previous post on editing, I noted some of my favourite books as a child which included several international titles. But Caribbean Literature played a role in shaping my thoughts as a young person growing up.
At that time I didn’t even know that each book was lighting the spark of writing within me, reading stories by my own people, about my own people. My only regret is that I didn’t have any examples of female Caribbean authors on my list back then.
But let’s get on with today’s review. Well, it’s not actually a review but a remembrance of an iconic piece that truth be told, I have never read before. It’s all good though because one of the reasons why I started this review series was to finally get to know more Caribbean titles, both new and old, that I have never read before. Today’s book review is on…
Yes! The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. The picture above is of the actual copy I borrowed from my sister who has a 1972 edition. A version that is a full 16 years after the first printing that was still alive and well at her house, for better or for worse, 48 years after it was published.
I must say when I started to read it I realised why his other novel, A Brighter Sun, was the piece chosen for CXC’s required reading. I doubt a book about the escapades of grown men living and hustling women and work alike in London would have been fitting reading material for a class taking the national exam. Nonetheless, it was a captivating read, that I’m sure the young people would have just as easily enjoyed outside of the classroom.
Now this novel has been talked about for decades, so I doubt there is much more I can say on it, but since I’m here let me try!
A beautifully woven tale of woe that comes off as nothing more than a good time, The Lonely Londoners has personal meaning for Caribbean people, the tale of the emigrant. I admit I have never cared for the lure of living abroad, but many people at that time painted it as this grand life. And I think Sam Selvon’s novel brought people down to earth about the realities in London for Caribbean immigrants at the time.
It was a fun ride for a few years as they chased women and marveled at the novelties of London, and as Caribbean people, they all tried to look out for each other. However, after ten years Moses was yearning for his first home where life wasn’t so hard day after day to survive, and he wasn’t so, well, lonely. Because even though they got work, it was the worse kind of work for very little pay and the ‘tests’ never really accepted them.
After talking about all his colourful friends and their lives, making their way through the hard winters and merry summers in London, the book ends in deep reflection, with the question of, “Is this all I have to look forward to in life? Working, eating, sleeping, over and over again?” Was it really worth being in the great city of London and walking famous bridges when they were starving for many a season and yearning each long, cold winter for the warmth of their homeland?
It seemed for many of them they came and stayed in London more for the bragging rights of having been there, but their circumstances were dismal or worse than when they were at home.
I really appreciated the Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. It helped me understand a little more about the many people who have returned from the UK who left around that time, and what they went through.
I especially appreciated Sam Selvon more and his work. Like many men in his time, he left school at fifteen to work, and by the time he was a new-adult man was seeking his fortune in jolly ole London. Even after years of writing and publishing and winning awards in Trinidad and Tobago, he still found himself doing janitorial work abroad and was rarely recognised by their literary bodies.
Maybe it was because he wasn’t traditionally educated, but even in that time where you didn’t need a degree to do everything, I believe he would have been looked at as someone who understood how to convey the thoughts and emotions of the disenfranchised. His work spoke for itself, and I thank him for all the contributions he made to the diverse body that is Caribbean literature today.
Sam Selvon, 20 May 1923 – 16 April 1994
If you would like to read this book you can purchase it on Amazon along with his other books, or if you are in the Caribbean just visit a bookstore. Even today, he is still a familiar face on the shelves.
And again, Happy Caribbean Literature Day!
– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation
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