Immigrant Ordeals, Caribbean History Focus of Prof's Book
February 25, 2014 - News Release
Cecil Foster wanted to show his readers what life in the Caribbean was like after independence, when people were deciding whether to stay or move to a new country. It’s a debate that he knows well.
Foster’s latest novel, Independence, takes readers back to a time just after colonial empires had started to leave the Caribbean. He hopes the book finds resonance with readers during Black History Month. The book has already received a series of strong reviews, including in the National Post and on Quill & Quire. Foster was interviewed about the book on Canada AM and on CBC Radio - The Next Chapter.
Foster, a University of Guelph professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, returns to fiction with this work after 12 years of writing non-fiction.
“My previous fictional books focused on the time leading to independence from colonial powers, so I wanted to look at the people after independence,” he said.
The book focuses on two young friends, Christopher and Stephanie, and the challenges they face in Barbados, which is rapidly changing after gaining independence from Britain in 1966. Both of their mothers have moved to other countries searching for better lives, and the children are raised by their grandmothers.
Foster experienced the same upbringing, as his parents moved to England when he was just two years old. He moved to Canada and became a respected journalist and commentator with several mainstream Canadian media outlets, a public intellectual and award-winning author, and a nationally and internationally recognized professor. Despite living in Canada for decades, he still finds himself caught between two places.
“For immigrants, there’s always this sense of guilt, of if we betrayed the trust of independence. Should I have stayed during the country’s formative years?” he said.
“Christopher and Stephanie show a holistic approach to what the younger generation faced going forward.”
Both characters have talent -- Christopher in cricket, Stephanie in running. But both face challenges, first at home with grandmothers anxious to provide for them, and then from sexual misconduct and abuse.
Foster wanted to show all aspects of the challenges young people faced, including possible predators.
“These are young people with natural abilities, like many of the famous Caribbean people you hear of today. It’s one thing to have a talent, another to activate it. These challenges, including sexual abuse, have been found in academic research, and I wanted to bring to them to the forefront in general literature as well.”
Independence, especially its dialogue, is written to capture the cadence of Barbadian English with descriptions of everything from cooking meals to the sounds of the island.
For Foster, this was not an attempt to lecture his readers on the positives and negatives of the time period.
“I wanted to show the challenges faced by a generation grasping at independence for the first time, both nationally and as young people,” he said.
“In doing fiction, I can leave readers to come to their own conclusions about our history.”
He views black history as a continuous process, and hopes his book will help in understanding the challenges faced by those who have historically been excluded.
“Black history is more than just some dates in time. This book will hopefully allow people to realize that history includes the people and their struggle to become full members of society. The need for a Black History Month will continue until we achieve total equality.”
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