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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505

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Earl Lovelace, primarily known for several novels from the 1960s, was originally a journalist and also wrote plays and short fiction. Born in Trinidad, he lived during childhood on Tobago, then attended university in Trinidad. As an adult, he lived for study, grant-funded writing, and employment in the United States, alternating with permanent residence in Trinidad.

Lovelace's most well-known novel is probably The Wine of Astonishment, which takes place in the fictional island town of Bonasse. The novel shows the challenges of British colonialism and the following American neocolonialism during the two world wars. The indigenous and African-heritage people struggle to find a viable path in white-dominated society.

One theme is the combined importance of religion and self-determination, including the conflicts between traditional Catholic and more recent Protestant Baptist faith, as the latter is under government ban. This is shown in the description of a local church as belonging to the community because they built it without any government financial help and conduct services there without white officiants.

We have this church in the village. We have this church. The walls make out of mud, the roof covered with carat leaves: a simple hut with no steeple or cross or acolytes or white priests or latin ceremonies. But is our own. Black people own it.

The character of Ivan Morton, who enters politics to help his fellow African-descendant people, embodies the colonized mentality, as he pushes for accommodating to white values as a way to get ahead. A town council member, Morton tells a friend, “We can’t be white, but we can act white.”

The character of Eva speaks for a diametrically opposed viewpoint. For instance, in a conversation with her husband, Bee, she opposes the idea that any one individual is responsible for the black community members’ predicament. Morton could not meaningfully represent something that does not exist. The problem she identifies is lack of unity, as they do not truly constitute a community.

For if we didn’t have the strength, if we didn’t have the power, if we wasn’t standing up on our own as a people, what was he there standing up for? We is a lot of people but we ain’t a people.

In another novel, the theme of unity is also important. In The Dragon Can’t Dance, Lovelace presents Carnival time in Trinidad as representing the illusory unity condensed into a few days. The steel bands and their music stand for the celebration and its fleeting presence; its tunes

will sing their person and their pose, that will soar over the hill, ring over the valley of shacks, and laugh the hard tears of their living.

In the shantytown where the novel is set, however, poverty and deprivation are the people’s daily fare. In Calvary Hill,

the sun set on starvation and rise on potholed roads, thrones for stray dogs that you could play banjo on their rib bones, holding garbage piled high like a cathedral spire, sparkling with flies buzzing like torpedoes....

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