Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 15th 2014 Contents B37
June 15, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
BB AC B
Can you imagine living in a place
where your life could be put in dan-
ger by just walking down the street
any time of day? In many places
around the world exploding bombs
and assassinations are common-
place. Could that happen here?
You might just find the answer to
that question in our Sunday Arts
Section (SAS) Book Club choice for
June, The Sound of Things Falling
by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. The author
examines the terrain of terrorism
and the illegal drugs trade in the
Colombian city of Bogotá when
drugs lord Pablo Escobar ruled the
roost in the 80s and early 90s.
Vásquez examines the impact of
this drugs culture on ordinary people
like Antonio Yammara, initially obliv-
ious to the cultural and political ero-
sion around him. Others---like Ricar-
do Laverde---are willing participants
in the demise of their country. Some
people---like Laverde s wife, Elaine
Fritts---choose to turn their backs
on the problem.
Irony is the order of the day. Yam-
mara, a law professor, can t piece
together any semblance of law and
order in his city. His own life is in
disarray after he witnesses the death
of his acquaintance Laverde.
Laverde casually enters the drugs
trade thinking there will be a way
for him to gracefully exit when he
chooses to return to a normal life.
Laverde s wife, Elaine Fritts, an
American Peace Corps volunteer, is
caught in the crossfire as well, as
she abandons her dreams of helping
Colombians and ends up living on
an isolated farm bought with drugs
With sobering scenes, Vásquez
demonstrates there is no idyllic place
in a drugs culture. The characters
of this novel are bound together by
their need to understand their place
in a crumbling society. Desperation
takes precedence over all emotions,
as shown in a telling passage in the
hospital when Yammara s parents
interrogate him while he lies wound-
ed in his hospital bed after his
acquaintance La Verde is shot and
killed by motorcycle-riding assassins.
His parents need to find an expla-
nation for the unexplainable is the
only way people can cope in such
a fragile culture.
The Sound of Things Falling is an
emotional rollercoaster ride.
In a review of the book on the-
Huffington Post Web site , Peter
Clothier said, "At once a profoundly
personal self-examination and a lyri-
cal reflection on the history, culture
and topography of a nation [....] The
theme of loss, grief, and regret for
an irrecoverable past is examined for
its profound emotional resonance in
the hearts and minds of those who
seek solace from it in a present that
seems irremediably desolate."
p ? ?
. p '
A Boo C p
oo o y C
"How come there s no white peo-
ple in this book?"
The question, posed by a three-
year-old, caught author (actor, writer,
producer and film-maker---she is
busy) Marjuan Canady by surprise.
Since publishing Callaloo: A Jazz
Folktale in November, Canady and
illustrator Nabeeh Bilal have traveled
the book-festival circuit, visited
schools and museums, and teamed
with e-literacy agency Qlovi to get
their book into US classrooms and
Bilal s multimedia production
company, CreativeJunkFood, has
developed Callaloo-inspired anima-
tions and a music video. And there
is a puppet.
The puppet was Bilal s idea. He
is Winston, the Trini-American little
boy whose trip to visit family in
Tobago turns into a tour of Caribbean
folklore in the book.
Puppet Winston was created by
a designer with experience working
for Sesame Street: "He looks like
Kermit the Frog s best friend," says
Canady. It s a look that draws atten-
tion. Once, Winston was upgraded
to first class on a flight to Los Ange-
les.A chance encounter on the street
led to a booking to appear at the
National Children s Museum in
Washington, DC on July 5. The
museum appearance will be the cul-
mination of a busy month of events,
including the book s official launch
at the Anacostia Smithsonian Muse-
um on June 22, all driven by the fact
that June is Caribbean American
Heritage Month in the US.
Travelling around the US with
Winston has also produced some
"He looks like he could be my
son," says Canady---who resembles
neither a frog nor a Muppet, but is
brown-skinned and has curly hair.
On a handful of occasions, kids
have approached the puppet after
readings, saying, "You have ugly hair.
Your skin is ugly."
These are ugly thoughts, but per-
haps no more than the clumsy artic-
ulations of developing minds con-
strained by narrow experiences.
The children s book genre in the
US has come under fire for its per-
vasive homogeneity. Some authors,
including Canady, have united under
the 21st-century s banner: a hashtag.
#WeNeedDiverseBooks is a call to
arms to the US publishing industry,
inspired by some startling statistics.
The Co-operative Children s Book
Center at the University of Wiscon-
sin-Madison School of Education
has been tracking data about chil-
dren s books published in the US by
or about people of colour since 1994.
For 2013, the centre reported just
223 (seven per cent) of 3,200 chil-
dren s books published in 2013 were
authored by people of colour, and
only 253 (eight per cent) could be
described as being about non-whites.
The 2012 US Census recorded 63
per cent of the population describing
itself as "White alone, not Hispanic
or Latino"---presumably leaving 37
per cent as describing themselves
as belonging to other races.
Winston s story is that of a little
boy reconnecting with family and
heritage in T&T. The under-repre-
sentation of people of colour in
American children s literature is no
more Winston s problem to solve
than it is the Caribbean s, but
Canady is hoping to bring Winston
to more places with a series of books.
"There is a Caribbean-American
experience," she says, "and we should
start investigating the identities that
are building not only in the
Caribbean but also outside it."
And that investigation will be of
service not just to the children of
the Caribbean and her diaspora, but
also those outside it.
Changing the face of children's books
A o C y
o B o
oo C oo: A o .
C C - A
Co o o o .
On a handful of occasions,
kids have approached the
puppet after readings, saying, "You have
ugly hair. Your skin is ugly."
These are ugly thoughts, but perhaps no
more than the clumsy articulations of
constrained by narrow
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