WHEN the Trinidadian novelist, playwright and short story writer Sam Selvon died earlier this year, the Caribbean lost one of its great emancipators of the language of ordinary people and a pioneer of the literary expression of the common tongue. His countryman CLR James said of him that, in his fiction, ‘he has an ear for the West Indian speech that is finer than anything that I have heard’ and that huge and beautiful talent was expressed in works like A Brighter Sun, Ways Of Sunlight and his novels of the Caribbean diaspora in Britain, like The Lonely Londoners. Highway in the Sun, his last published work, is a collection of plays set in Trinidad, in those villages ‘behin’ God back’ where the Caribbean languages were truly forged, villages like Wilderness where Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean have struggled against landlordism and absentee owners for generations.
In the title play, the new imperialists have arrived to build a road clean through the agricultural land of a group of provisions growers. ‘All I saying is the Americans and them would build their road and go. And after that, we left on we own again.’ Suddenly there is segregation in the local rum shop as the Americans are given their own private room and service and this galvanises Tiger, one of the growers, to begin to realise and fight to stop the wheel of sameness in his village from ‘going round and round in a circle, round and round all the time.’
These three plays are attempts to escape - in ‘Home Sweet India’, a
group of Indo-Caribbean men struggle to persuade their government to
help finance a repatriation to an India that they have never known. It
is all to escape the parochialism and continuing underdevelopment of
village life, prey to the message of the metropole, for it is only there
that ‘real’ life can happen: ‘What do you expect to happen in this
half-dead village? One day just like another. Is only in England and
America big things does happen.’ The dreams and frustration of rural
Trinidad are at the centre of Selvon’s prose, which carries the poetry
and figurative energy of the words which tumble from the poor of his
Highway in the Sun is a vibrant text of Selvon’s brilliant re-creation of his people’s tongue.
Highway in the Sun and Other Plays -Samuel Selvon
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