Throwback review – meaning a review I originally posted back in my My Space days and am now relocating here.
With Silent Tread by Frieda Cassin – As an Antiguan, I’ve wanted to read this book, set in late 19th century Antigua for a while; fiction writers, after all, have a lot to reveal about their times. Of course, the view is decidedly different from Smith and Smith’s To Shoot Hard Labour (a post-slavery narrative of the life of an Antiguan workingman); an Antiguan classic. Tread is more in the vein of Janet Schaw’s 18th century reflections in Journal of a Lady of Quality; which similarly saw an English lady experiencing the culture shock of life in the islands during the colonial era. Tread is part social drama, not unlike the works of Jane Austen, though with ultimately tragic turns reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or perhaps more accurately its darker sibling Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea. The writing was quite good, I thought and the narrative voice very much in the spirit of its time. Still, I found it difficult to care for any of these people, in part because of their casual cruelty and condescension towards the island’s darker inhabitants. As a descendent of those darker inhabitants, certain things hit me like a blow to the funny bone. When for instance, Morea forces the ‘Mammy’ who raised her from birth to sit and listen to poetry as punishment, remarking, “understand it? of course she won’t, not a word, it makes her feel bad inside without knowing why, that’s where the punishment comes in”, I feel the humiliation ‘Mammy’ can’t seem to muster at her own expense. That Morea ultimately dies of leprosy is not so much poetic justice, for me, as it is symbolic of the festering but untended wound connecting the country’s black and white populations.
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