James A. Michener’s novelistic style is as distinctive as a fingerprint.
In Caribbean, the Michener imprint is unusually sunny considering how bleak much of Caribbean history is.
The first chapter ends with cannibals eating a tribe they despise for playing ballgames instead of making war.
That sets the stage for centuries of conflicts both among those who live around the Caribbean Sea and between nations far away who prefer to fight their wars far from home. (More civilized, don’t ya’ know.)
Famous names like Columbus and Sir Francis Drake appear, along with a host of less familiar Caribbean heroes and villains.
The chapters of Caribbean read almost like short stories, which makes the hefty novel very accessible.
Two intertwined themes run through all the stories: Race relations and economic survival.
From the appearance of white explorers to Michener’s day, the Western belief in white superiority prevented darker skinned individuals from participating in a significant way in the islands’ economies.
The exodus of the most talented among them has left the islands at the mercy of the North American tourist trade.
The novel is worth reading as a novel and equally worth reading as a discussion of economic and political realities that are still impacting the United States.
Chucking the workaday world for tropical beaches is a paradise most of us only dream about.
Norman Paperman tries it—and his inventor, novelist Herman Wouk, tells the tale.
Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk
Doubleday, 1965. 395 pages. 1965 bestseller #10. My grade: B+.
Norm is bored with his work as Broadway publicity agent when a mild heart attack signals he needs a change of pace.
With encouragement from millionaire Lester Atlas, a hard-drinking slob he can’t stand, Norm buys the Gull Reef Club on the island of Amerigo, which Lester assures him will be a gold mine.
Lester gets the gold and Norm gets to do the heavy digging.
Norm knows nothing of the hospitality business.
He’s unprepared for the loonies and eccentrics on whom he must rely to make the hotel run.
In addition, he finds certain aspects of life in the West Indies—such as hurricanes, earthquakes, lack of drinking water—too far off Broadway for his liking.
Norm finally learns to put his managerial skills to work in the strange surroundings. He’s on the verge of a success of the hotel when a series of tragic accidents produce a shocking ending that upon closer examination appears entirely reasonable.
Wouk makes the boisterous story laugh-out-loud funny, but the guffaws cover some serious growing-up for the middle-aged non-hero.
During the 1600s, England, France, and Spain struggled for world domination. Intrigues in the European courts had effects around the globe. F. Van Wyck Mason takes readers back to that time with Cutlass Empire, a based on the true story of a privateer who became governor of Jamaica.
The novel is a swashbuckler whose swash has long since buckled.
Washed up — literally — on a Caribbean island, Harry watches helplessly as Spaniards torture and murder. Harry determines to get revenge and make his fortune doing it.
He takes commissions from the British or French to attack Spanish shipping. But land fighting, not sea battles, are Harry’s forte.
Seeing that England needs only control a few critical islands to keep Spain from exploiting all her New World possessions, Harry goes for the kill.
In 1670, he marches his ruffians across the Isthmus of Panama and captures Panama City — months after England and Spain have penned a peace treaty.
Harry’s brilliant campaign was a criminal act.
Mason has written an historical novel with emphasis on history. The plot feels threadbare. The main characters are shallow creatures from romance novels.
If Mason had attempted a narrower story, he might have achieved a far better novel.
F. Van Wyck Mason
1949 Bestseller # 8
My Grade: C-