by Andrea Bowman
In the ‘Author’s Note’ of her first novel SHAPE OF A WARRIOR, Peggy Carr states that, “the writing of this book has been an intriguing journey in tribute to the people who gave St Vincent and the Grenadines a place in history as the last Caribbean territory to fall to European colonization”. Therefore, this novel, which was eight years in the making, celebrates a unique aspect of Vincentian history and as such it belongs to us, Vincentians. In addition to this, from a literary and an historical perspective, our author’s journey, as does the journey of the novel’s heroine, Yurubi, begins in Hiroon, Yurumein, both indigenous names of our country. This novel is set in and shaped by St Vincent and the Grenadines and it is a veritable treasure chest of the making of our country.
The title of the novel, SHAPE OF A WARRIOR, immediately took me in two directions: the shaping of a warrior and the shape, the form, which a warrior takes. The question which it presented to me was,’how is a warrior defined?’ And the novel presents us with at least two potential answers to this question. We have what may be regarded as the heroine’s self-affirmation in this quotation from the novel’s penultimate chapter, ‘Yurubi lifted her chin. No, she was not one of those mighty women, but she would die like a warrior here on the rocks of Hiroon.’ And there is another potential answer which is presented towards the end of the novel’s final chapter:
‘Slowly, the shape emerged. A broad-chested warrior with thickly
muscled arms and legs, head held high, a mass of curly black hair
streaming behind him, his glistening body the colour of newly turned
earth after a rain shower.’
This latter image seems to be heralding the shape of the sole National Hero of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer, our Garifuna warrior King who is a product of the miscegenation of our indigenous Amerindians, the Kalina and Africans who seem to have arrived on our shores before Europeans did. In one’s search for the definition of a warrior, it is also significant that the two warriors who were on hand to save the village from a potentially devastating pre-dawn raid, were female and male. The intense suspense and excitement of this particular chapter entitled ‘Two Warriors’, was riveting!
I enjoyed this story! It made me curl up and read. As our author wrote in the novel’s dedication, as her wish for her two granddaughters, I was able to,”roam the great outdoors, even when [I] had to stay indoors.” The pace of the narrative is quick, and the ease with which this story is told lends itself to swift page turning although it is packed with details. The author’s passion for her craft and her subject-matter results in an earthy, elemental love story that reminds the initiated of some of D.H. Lawrence’s work, where the untamed elements of human nature, in the primacy of the instinctive interactions between Yurubi and Aloo, consistently blend into the sympathetic background of their environment. There is a natural balance to the presentation of the form and content of their relationship, especially when in the middle of the novel, Chapter 22, we see that the consummation of their love is one with the thrusts, heaving and cascading waterfalls of nature.
In a number of ways I see this novel as a new story although it emerges from the literary tradition of Caribbean writing. For example, the build up to the warrior initiation process and the ceremony in SHAPE OF A WARRIOR reminds us of Vic Reid’s YOUNG WARRIORS, a staple of adolescent junior school reading in the Caribbean. However, Reid’s story seems to be an abridged version when compared with the depth and insight which author Carr brings to her novel. There is also the harrowing rupture which Aloo experiences, when as a seven-year-old or younger, the sea literally rips him away from his mother in a shipwreck. This occurrence is a stark, unmistakable symbol of the deadly transatlantic crossing, which had such a debilitating impact on Aloo and millions after him, that we read these heart wrenching words, ‘ all that was left was this deep yearning, this feeling of great loss and apprehension whenever he looked out over the ocean’. This enduring yearning for the motherland of Africa is captured by so many Caribbean writers including Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott of St Lucia and George Lamming of Barbados. Yet, Aloo’s child’s eyes’ inside view of this indelible pain, places the experience of this novel in a space of its own.
SHAPE OF A WARRIOR, in one story, embodies the many stories which contribute to the shaping of a people. By personifying this story, our author allows us to empathize with the trauma, the rivalry, the betrayal, the camaraderie, the community and the love which constitute the making of a people. Cultural Ambassador Carr has shaped a national treasure, our shining emerald of global value and universal appeal.
Shape of a Warrior is on sale in St Vincent and the Grenadines at Jujube, Gaymes, and Nightingale bookstores and at Corea’s City Store. It is also available in Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon marketplaces worldwide.
Andrea Bowman is the Ambassador of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the ROC/Taiwan.