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A STATE OF INDEPENDENCE by Caryl Phillips (Collier Books/Macmillan: $6.95)

May 29, 1988|ELENA BRUNET

An extraordinary novel about post-colonialism on the island of St. Kitts. The novel's hero, Bertram Francis, had left the island for London 20 years before to claim what he hoped would be a glorious future in law as the winner of a local scholarship. When he returns, now older, adrift, just as poor, he finds that he has lost his place. St. Kitts has shed its colonial dependence on England--Miami is the hub of the axis now--and all the rules, social, political and economic, have changed.

This is most demonstrably proven when Bertram looks up his boyhood best friend, Jackson Clayton, who has profited in the intervening years and is now a powerful deputy minister. In part, it's pay back: Clayton resented his former friend's early success and gloats in the ironic turn of fortune: " 'Let me put it this way,' " Jackson says when Bertram comes to him for a job, "his voice implying an almost perverse familiarity with power. . . . 'You think you, a little raggedy-arse boy who leave all this time ago, really carrying any swing around here?' " Bertram's sole consolation comes from his old girlfriend Patsy, who welcomes him, and through her he comes to find a foothold of sorts in the society.

"Bertram's adventures in attempting a return that resists him are told with dry comedy," Richard Eder wrote in his review. Caryl Phillips, a native of St. Kitts, now lives in London.

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