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Jacqui L'Ange

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A Review of Is Just a Movie by Earl Lovelace

This review originally appeared in Psychologies magazine. Earl Lovelace will appear at the Open Book Cape Town literary festival this September.

Is Just a MovieTitle: Is Just a Movie
By Earl Lovelace
(Faber and Faber)

Trinidad in the 1970s in the wake of the Black Power rebellion, and some are still struggling to make sense of the way things change and the way things don’t and their place in the middle of it all.

One of them is Sonnyboy Apparicio, chance revolutionary, son of the streets, who refuses to die a choreographed death – even if, like his hapless friends, he is just playing a bit part in an American movie.

Sonnyboy finds his position in refusal, and his voice in the clang of the steel drum like his father before him. Sonnyboy has a swagger that is part bravado, part polio limp, but he puts on muscle as he grows from young boy to badjohn on Rouff Street, between the Shango yard and Mother Olga’s Shouters church, between the streetfights and the cornerstore scams.

He is just one of a cast of characters living in Cascadu, each one as deftly drawn, as lovingly flawed as the next. There are girls that smell of mystery and Oil of Olay, and boys that grow up crooked; there are women who could put a light on you, and ones who can make you go blind if you look them bold in the eye. There are people who live rejoicing in other people’s sorrow to keep it away from their own door.

There is Dorlene whose wedding wasn’t to be, and Claude, an idealist taken in by the system, marking time, doing distractions along with everyone else to hide from the fact that the land is being poisoned while power is being centralised.

And there is Kangkala, the book’s master narrator, an aging calypso player, ‘maker of confusion, recorder of gossip, destroyer of reputations, revealer of secrets’. When Sonnyboy beats iron in the steelband, he tells us, ‘what he produced was not the insistent percussive sound to keep the band on the beat, but the discordant chiming clanging clataclanging that opened up the belly of the music to make women start to wine, young fellars square off to fight and big men put their two hands in their head and weep’.

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997 for his previous book, Salt, Lovelace has lived all his life on Trinidad and Tabago, and the lilt of the islands permeates his pages. Like Sonnyboy’s steel drum, Lovelace’s prose beats right through you, every word in this glorious story ringing with the rhythm of place.

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