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Bruce King (ed.), West Indian Literature (2nd edition). London: Macmillan Educational Ltd, 1995. 248 pages.

Recent advertisements for The (New) New Yorker claim that "The Best Magazine in the World just got better." The same can be said for the newly revised edition of West Indian Literature, billed in 1974, when it first appeared, as the "first comprehensive historical and critical survey of West Indian literature." With this 1995 edition, it is safe to say that one of the best reference books in Caribbean literature in English "just got better."

The format is the same. After the introduction, completely revised by the editor, the "Historical Survey," Part I, presents eight chapters, three of them new. The chronological coverage in Chapters 2-9 ranges from "The background," an updated overview, to "The eighties," an exhaustive new chapter by Laurence A. Breiner. It provides a clear overview of trends—works by women writers and treatment of the Indo-Caribbean culture, recent anthologies, individual collections, recovered texts (e.g., Eric Roach's posthumously published The Flowering Rock, 1992), literary history, criticism, journals (Breiner describes The Caribbean Writer as a "particularly distinguished newcomer"), and even linguistics. Renu Juneja's chapter, "Contemporary women writers," examines the themes—coming of age, psychic dislocation, self-definition, etc.—that have united women's literature since the 1970s. Her treatment of poetry highlights the works of Dionne Brand, Lorna Goodison, Grace Nicolas, and Claire Harris. She concludes with the claim that Harris's 1992 collection, Drawing Down a Daughter, includes all the thematic concerns highlighted in the chapter "as characteristic of women's poetry. "The last chapter in this section, "West Indian writing in Canada," by Victor J. Ramraj also treats Hanis and Brand; some overlapping is to be expected since the chapters in the volume are organized according to different logical categories: chronology, region, gender and—in Part II—"Significant authors."

Part II covers an evaluative critique of ten major writers, two of them new. Virtually unchanged are the chapters on Jean Rhys, Edgar Mittelholzer, Wilson Harris, Samuel Selvon, and George Lamming. The chapter on Derek Walcott, by Mervyn Morris, now includes a new introduction and some discussion of Omeros, The Odyssey, (Walcott's adaptation), and A Branch of the Blue Nile. Also updated is J. Michael Dash's chapter on Edward Kamau Brathwaite, with a comparatively abbreviated treatment of Brathwaite's works ranging from his second trilogy, beginning with Mother Poem to Middle Passages (1992). The most substantially revised chapter is Bruce King's commentary on V. S. Naipaul. Generally, King's revised interpretations have more depth and subtlety, especially as they pertain to the "autobiographical sub-texts" of Naipaul's writing. King describes Naipaul's 1994 work, A Way in the World, as a "clever mixture of fact, revelation, imagination, analysis, [and] even malice" that is "difficult to stop reading." The collection ends with new chapters on Earl Lovelace, treating all his work up to A Brief Conversion and Other Stories (1988,) and Trevor Rhone, covering all his works from Look Two (1966) to Pepper (1989).

This volume qualifies as a "must have" item for scholars and critics. The content is complete, balanced, fresh, and accessible. "Notes of the Contributors," explanatory notes at the ends of most chapters, and an index make the text "user friendly."

Bruce King, who has taught at universities in England, France, Israel, Nigeria, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, is the author of New English Literatures, Modern Indian Poetry in English, Three Indian Poets, V. S. Naipaul, Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama, and other books.


Roberta Q. Knowles

Copyright ©  Bruce King
 
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