'Whispering of the Trees' is Cyrilene's story
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Below the title of Dr Cynthia Wilson's latest book, Whispering of the Trees, is written 'A Memoir'. However, during the book's launch on Friday, July 12, Wilson made the fine distinction between writing personal memory and its use in otherwise deliberately constructed text.
"I am going to answer a question you have not asked," she said. "People assume it is an autobiography. It is not."
Reading from the foreword of another writer, Wilson said that she had taken a fictional framework and filled it with autobiographical data. The character, Cyrilene, Wilson said, kept her up at nights, saying "I want to talk, I want to talk".
"So I said 'talk then'. This is Cyrilene's story," Wilson said.
After Cyrilene spoke, the Earl Warner Trust made room for her voice on the page, with support of Whispering of the Trees. And at the launch Dr Velma Pollard gave voice to the words of the late Professor Rex Nettleford, reading his foreword in which he remarks "family life is not always sweetness and light".
There was a reading of another kind from the book, Carol Lawes delivering an excerpt in which the formidable matriarch of the family appropriates the front pew of the church at a Christmas Day service. Before setting out for the long walk, a pregnant Ma "looked at us, nodded and said 'we are a beautiful family'". At the end of the service, though, when the sexton 'Rip Up' attempted to upbraid Ma for usurping the white families, she was in a very different mood, declaring that in that case they could take over the hard work in the church that she had been doing.
The lesson was that "I belong at the front of anywhere I choose to go". It took their father's kiss on her cheek to calm Ma, so her heavy breathing "slowed down gradually as we reached home".
Guest speaker Professor Mervyn Morris identified a number of themes in Whispering of the Trees, noting that the book is written to preserve some picture of Barbados as it used to be.
So there was community support, as when Cyrilene gets a scholarship "you would have thought I had a bus load of parents". In the village though, there was a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children, as they were christened on different days. So class and colour are consistent throughout the narrative, Cyrilene speaking about her own hair-straightening experience. But when people told her she looked like an African - and it was not a compliment - her father got her a book that made her visit Africa.
Morris noted that Wilson taught in Morocco.
Abuse, a game
There was a bad marriage in which physical abuse became a game in which the husband beat his wife, she went to her mother, he went for her, she got pregnant and he beat her again. A man shook her father's hand 12 times and Cyrilene said she knew he wanted to hug Pa, but "I noticed men always seemed afraid of touching each other".
"The narrative is lively and the book is an absolute mine about Barbados in the period it was written," Morris said, concluding - as Nettleford had - that Whispering of the Trees is a "must-read for another Caribbean generation".
Dr Renee Rattray included You'll Never Walk Alone in her excellently delivered selection of songs.