Naeem Murr, Author . HarperCollins/Amistad $23 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7432-3795-6

Clarke, considered one of Canada's finest political novelists, but less well known in the U.S. (a memoir, Pig Tails 'n Breadfruit, was published by the New Press in 2000), gets a new launching in this country with this eloquent, richly detailed novel, awarded Canada's Giller Prize. A murder takes place in the 1950s on the fictional Caribbean island of Bimshire (a stand-in for Clarke's native Barbados), where the culture of English gardens and cricket contrasts sharply with the legacy of slavery. The murderer is Mary Gertrude Mathilda, a respected elderly black matriarch. But the identity of the victim is less clear. In the 24 hours covered by Austin's tale, Mary is determined to tell the police about the lifetime of degradations that led up to her homicidal rage, and Sgt. Percy Stuart, a black member of the police force, is determined to stop her. Percy is in love with Mary, but his life has been a continual compromise with the still-lingering plantation system. Nobody represents the system better than Mr. Bellfeels, the white manager of the sugar plantation at the center of the villagers' lives. When she was 13, Mary was, in essence, bartered to Bellfeels by her mother, who was his previous mistress. For 38 years, she bore his groping and his children. Though he has helped their son, Wilberforce, become a doctor, Bellfeels has never shown Mary herself any kindness. At times, Clarke loses confidence in his characters and has them deliver forced sociological truths—for instance, when Mary gives a lecture about Christopher Columbus. Most of the story, however, unfolds through brilliantly written dialogue, a rich, dancing patois that fills out the dimensions of the island's painful history and its complex caste system. Like Texaco, by Martinique writer Patrick Chamoiseau, Clarke's novel, by harnessing the genius of Creole, shows how art can don a liberating face. 6-city author tour. (June 19)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 371 pages - 978-0-09-944999-7
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