Title: God Carlos
Author: Anthony C. Winkler, 2012
Publisher: Akashic Book, New York
Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby
Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler marches through time - from Cadiz, Spain, to the New World, in the mercurial God Carlos.
Set in the early half of the 16th century, Winkler captures the exploits of Spanish seamen embarking on a potentially perilous journey in search of fortune. Carlos Antonio Maria Eduardo Garcia de la Cal Fernandez (an interestingly lengthy name) assumes the role of protagonist. A crude, surly, megalomaniac with gnomic features, his borderline sociopathy creates tension among the crew - an uneasiness that devolves into a deadly confrontation. It's Carlos' second murder at the mere age of 25.
At this juncture, the stage is primed for a baleful encounter between these adventurers and unsuspecting natives of Jamaica.
But beyond the inevitable fate of these natives, viz, the Arawaks, and the indictment of European marauders, is Winkler's peer into the delusions of religions - whether mainstream or indigenous. His case is compelling, after all, Carlos proves a murderous knave - a Catholic (mind you) who blankets himself with religiosity after every disdainful thought or action - willing to buy absolution from "from a roaming pardoner".
For all his self-serving, warped piety, Carlos cannot temper his feelings of guilt and inner turmoil.
Winkler's antipathy towards this character is unquestionable: "Whatever his church said, he accepted unquestionably. This rigorous Catholicism had made his a curious mixture of animal carnality and spiritual wistfulness. He was always wishing he were better, but constantly berating himself for being worse."
Also competing with this exemplar of religious obsession and hypocrisy are the atheistic views of the crew's captain, Alonso de la Serena, and the Arawak elder, Brayou - uncle of another key figure, Orocobix.
"You expect an answer from wood," Brayou intones from his dying bed, referring to the god Zemi. And earlier, the captain's, "It's a pity there is no God," adds to the multilayered themes of God, providence, faith, and ontology. Unabashedly, Winkler raises the spectre of man's compulsion to exploit and murder the unsuspecting, the trusting. God Carlos is a classical exploration in Social Darwinism.
Sure, Carlos succumbs to karmic justice - his comeuppance long overdue. But his legacy - an evil - embodied by his fellow colonisers, never lets up.
The author's piercing narrative drives home the unforgiving affectlessness of the Spaniards, and the self deprecations of the Arawaks - in particular - Orocobix, whose genuflections before power-hungry Carlos will revile readers. The loathful act - "the genocidal Catholicism that fell upon the Arawaks with pestilential ferocity" - fails to dent the belief in Spanish deification, at least initially. Whatever cruelty meted out to the indigenous people was justly deserved - a damning and incredulous delusion that only religion can engender.
Here, Winkler's brilliance as storyteller is unmistakable: "Only a few of the assembled men and women had ever actually seen these gods, and some would not speak of them because of shame. Among them was a young woman who had encountered three of the gods. She had not admitted to it to anyone, for then she would have to tell the shameful story of what the gods had done to her, one after another, and how she had been torn open, and left on the river bank bleeding."
God Carlos is a literary tour de force - atmospheric and incisive. It effuses raw emotion - perplexing, bewildering, and dark. This is Jamaica, shredded to its core - known then as Xamayca.
Throughout, Winkler remains unassuming, almost deferentially philosophical, with a flair for indigenous culture and the pelagic life. When prodded, he can also be quite blunt: "If the drama of the Arawaks teaches anything, it is that passivity in the face of a viscous invader is a bad tactic."
On multiple levels, Winkler proves his salt as a genuine raconteur ... the architect of an invaluable literary work.