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Lorris Elliott.

Toronto, Williams-Wallace Productions, c1982.
144pp, paper, $8.95.
ISBN 0-88795-019-1.

Reviewed by Philip K. Harber.

Volume 11 Number 3.
1983 May.

Exile has provided many West Indian authors (Austin Clarke, George Lamming, V.S. Naipaul and Samuel Selvon, for example) with autobiographical material for a novel, and the Tobagonian writer of this first novel set in Canada has used the same source: his own experience. "A novel in five parts" suggests music, as does the title, from the well-known spiritual. There are in fact several voices narrating Omoh's career at a Canadian university, which is a succession of embarrassments and catastrophes reminiscent of Candide. Like Candide, after the final crisis (an accident) he comes to the realization that happiness lies in the simplicity of home:

         For the first time, too, Omoh had to
         confront the tragic paradox within
         which he himself, like all his childhood
         friends who dreamed of being born again
         as millionaires, fast-shooting cowboys
         and such, had long been trapped. And so,
         eventually, he began to understand that
         while they had flourished in the tropic
         fullness of their world they had moulded
         their dreams out of the stuff of distant
         lands. Their images of happiness were never
         garnered from the life they knew and thrived upon...

The style of this quotation contrasts effectively with the wordy, "pretensive" (as the West Indian expresses it) patches of narrative appropriate to the student's image of himself and the basilectal creole of the other students' "old talk." The contrast between the conscious and the unconscious (the latter being the dream scenes and the stream of consciousness in Part Four) is made clearer by the typographical device of double-spacing the text. The experiment of employing differing styles and registers is successful, but the story is too predictable and Omoh too slight a character (like Candide, again) to carry the weight of Elliott's artistic ambition.

The novel would be of interest to mature young adult readers studying the impact of immigration on Canada (and of Canada on immigrants). It would also be worthwhile directing their attention to Elliott's plays.

Philip K. Harber, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, ON.
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