Blessed Is the Fruit

Robert Antoni, Author
Robert Antoni, Author Henry Holt & Company $25 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4925-1
Reviewed on: 12/01/1970
Release date: 12/01/1941
The inescapable ties between two West Indian women of vastly different backgrounds is at the heart of Trinidadian author Antoni's (Divina Trace) challenging novel. In the late 1940s, Velma Bootman, a single black woman, is the sole remaining household help at Lilla Woodward's crumbling island mansion. Despairing over an unwelcome pregnancy, Vel repeatedly attempts to self-abort; her last bloody try is interrupted by Lilla, who takes Vel into her own private quarters to recuperate. As Vel regains her strength, both women address stories to the stubborn fetus they call ""Bolom,"" after a figure from an old West Indian folk tale. Vel's life has been one of struggle and deprivation, marked by the deaths of her children and the incorrigible unfaithfulness of her husband, Berry. Lilla has spent her life deeply conflicted about her mixed religious heritage (a Protestant father and a Catholic mother). Lilla marries popular cricket player Keith Woodward, whom she dubs Daisy, and the pair rescues the family home from bankruptcy. Falsely alarmed that she might be pregnant, Lilla tries to ""throw"" her child; when Daisy leaves her for European cricket and another man, she plunges into grief. Only when Lilla's former nursemaid reveals an old secret can she and Vel begin to understand the bond that ties them together. In addition to the device of having Lilla and Vel address their narratives to Bolom, Antoni is working in a nearly Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness mode thick with island dialect and references that place a heavy demand on the reader. Much of it is beautiful, and Vel and Lilla are commanding characters, but this dense duet of voices requires patient and attentive reading before one reaches the rewarding and moving conclusion. Rights: Witherspoon Agency. (Apr.)
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