- Title: The Wine of Astonishment
- Author: Earl Lovelace
- Publisher: Heinemann
- Pages: 146
“God don’t give you more than you can bear, I say. ‘Cause for hundreds of years we bearing what He send like the the earth bear the hot sun…”.
The Wine of Astonishment starts with the question of why God allows good the suffer while the wicked prosper. The narrator of the story, Eva, tries to explain to her children why it is that they have to be put through so much tribulation; her answer is “…is because you…we could bear it and rise”.
The novel deals with a small community of Spiritual Baptists living in Trinidad whose religious practices have been outlawed by the colonial government because they are seen to be ‘backward’ and ‘uncivilized’. Bee, the Spiritual leader in Bonasse, faces the challenge of being true to his religious beliefs while not seeming to encourage any delinquency. Bolo, a venerable stick-fighter, doesn’t think that any form of dialogue will help to alleviate their oppressive circumstances and sees violence as their only way out. When Bee realizes that the due process of law is not on their side he decides that he will ‘break the law’. In a sense their battle to have their religious practices legitimized, can be seen as part of a larger fight as Trinidad will eventually be attempting assert itself as an independent nation. This is a novel of hope, betrayal, humiliation and tragedy.
It would seem that the characters are really just narrative tools representing various perspectives in colonial Trinidad. Bolo seems symbolic of the warrior who isn’t satiated by peace but also wants equal rights and justice. Ivan Morton, despite being black, has ultimately profited from the status quo and has become a part of the system he was employed to fight. Bee is the leader who sees it as his responsibility to be role model with a genuine want to help his people. And, finally, Eva stands for the collective consciousness keeping the reader abreast of what is happening. I appreciated the use of the true Trinidadian dialect, because it made these characters seem more real.
Earl Lovelace was born in the remote country village of Toco. He worked for a time as a forest ranger and as an agricultural assistant in the Department of Forestry. He studied in the USA at Howard University and on Johns Hopkins writing programme. Whilst being mainly based in Trinidad, he taught at a number of American universities in the 1970s.
His first novel, While The Gods Are Falling, was published in 1965, followed by The Schoolmaster, The Dragon Can’t Dance, The Wine of Astonishment, and Salt, which won the Commonweath Writers Prize in 1997. He is one of the few major Caribbean writers who, except for brief periods, has never left the region. He currently lives in the remote village of Matura. He teaches at UWI, Trinidad.