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As Flies to Whatless Boys

Overview


Winner of the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize!

Included in World Literature Today's Nota Benes, Summer 2014

One of Edwidge Danticat's Best Books of 2013, the New Yorker

A Favorite Novel of 2013, Tin House

"William's account of young love attests to Antoni's fluency in the poetry of nostalgia. In words as vibrant as the personalities he creates, Antoni deftly captures unconquered ...

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As Flies to Whatless Boys

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Overview


Winner of the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize!

Included in World Literature Today's Nota Benes, Summer 2014

One of Edwidge Danticat's Best Books of 2013, the New Yorker

A Favorite Novel of 2013, Tin House

"William's account of young love attests to Antoni's fluency in the poetry of nostalgia. In words as vibrant as the personalities he creates, Antoni deftly captures unconquered territories and the risks we’re willing to take exploring them."
--Publishers Weekly

"The emotional influence of Willy’s narrative--his loving descriptions of the people who surround him--is profoundly effective...Strikes strong emotional chords."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Antoni...has written a novel epic in scope that...is driven by outbursts of fine writing."
--Booklist

"A rollicking 19th-century colonial tale blends history with imagination."
--Library Journal

"Robert Antoni gracefully combines layers of idealism, love, and a plague of the Black Vomit in this historical novel."
--World Literature Today

"It brings the travails and small delights of Willy Tucker to the centre stage of our imaginings, asking only that we accompany him on this unforgettable voyage."
--Caribbean Beat

"This tragic historical novel, accented with West Indian cadence and captivating humour, provides an unforgettable glimpse into 19th-century T&T. The book’s narrator, Willy, falls headover-heels for the enthralling and wise Marguerite Whitechurch. Coming from the gentry, Marguerite is a world away from Willy's labouring class."
--The Trinidad Guardian, one of the Best Caribbean Books of the Year

"Reminds us that storytelling is fundamental to the human condition...A contending classic of postcolonial literature."
--Trinidad Guardian, Review/2014 OCM Bocas Prize Feature

"Reminds us that storytelling is fundamental to the human condition...A contending classic of postcolonial literature."
--Trinidad Guardian, 2014 OCM Bocas Prize Feature

"I have been hooked on Robert Antoni since his first novel, Divina Trace. His new one, As Flies to Whatless Boys, is a marvel of narrative and documents, which collide to create a book that is at times breathtaking and tragic and at other times laugh-out-loud hilarious."
--Edwidge Danticat, who selected As Flies to Whatless Boys as a Best Book of 2013 for the New Yorker‘s Page-Turner Blog

"A bittersweet coming-of-age tale of tragedy, chicanery, high ideals, harsh realities, and the hard choice between love and family duty, As Flies to Whatless Boys is highly recommended."
--Midwest Book Review

"As Flies to Whatless Boys is a kind of complex word game, a historical narrative in a lilting Caribbean accent, wrapped around with an oddball love story in a wild form of English that seems to create itself as it goes along. In between, snippets of contemporary records provide foils for both these linguistic inventions."
--Historical Novel Society

In 1845 London, an engineer, philosopher, philanthropist, and bold-faced charlatan, John Adolphus Etzler, has invented machines that he thinks will transform the division of labor and free all men. He forms a collective called the Tropical Emigration Society (TES), and recruits a variety of London citizens to take his machines and his misguided ideas to form a proto-socialist, utopian community in the British colony of Trinidad.

Among his recruits is a young boy (and the book's narrator) named Willy, who falls head-over-heels for the enthralling and wise Marguerite Whitechurch. Coming from the gentry, Marguerite is a world away from Willy's laboring class. As the voyage continues, and their love for one another strengthens, Willy and Marguerite prove themselves to be true socialists, their actions and adventures standing in stark contrast to Etzler's disconnected theories.

Robert Antoni's tragic historical novel, accented with West Indian cadence and captivating humor, provides an unforgettable glimpse into nineteenth-century Trinidad & Tobago.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Antoni has a fine ear for cultural tensions and a wicked sense of humor."
--Ocean Drive Magazine

"As Flies to Whatless Boys by Trinidadian Robert Antoni is a tragic historical novel, accented with West Indian cadence and captivating humour, and provides an unforgettable glimpse into 19th-century T&T."
--Trinidad Express Newspapers

"If you are a smart reader who likes something different, this will make you happy."
--Spacebeer (Blog)

"A pleasure of a read. A lovely artifact of a book. A delight on many levels, and a deeply felt, deeply moving novel."
--Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud (Blog)

"A marvel of a novel, layered in histories, Robert Antoni's unique and engaging As Flies to Whatless Boys is an unforgettable and matchless work of fiction. A crowning achievement in an exceptional body of work by this amazingly talented writer."
--Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light

"As Flies to Whatless Boys is an inventive, witty, comic romance that is as much about history and adventure as it is about language. With virtuosic attention to language, Robert Antoni delightfully explores the written word in all its forms--as letters, as e-mails, as reportage, as narration, as archives--to tell stories, to paint characters, to demonstrate the range and integrity of English and its dialects, and to edge us closer to ourselves as equally human beings."
--Earl Lovelace, author of Is Just a Movie

"As Flies to Whatless Boys is a brilliant novel that is rivetingly localized in a distant time and an untouched place, and yet somehow speaks vibrantly to this present age and to the universal human condition. Robert Antoni is a treasure of our literary culture."
--Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"Like the preserved hummingbirds at its center, this novel is a tender and strange object, referencing something no longer with us, but maintained in its beauty as art."
--Tiphanie Yanique, author of How to Escape from a Leper Colony

"Robert Antoni is one of the great comic writers of the New World--that sweaty, sun-blasted, eternally baroque, dystopia where our tears, issued from laughter or sorrow or more often both, have the potency of overproof rum. As Flies to Whatless Boys is a mishmash merriment of an adventure story, an island of luscious prose in a sea of delight."
--Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

“Antoni is an audacious storyteller, mining his very own language and ways of telling from the linguistic cornucopia of Trinidad. His story is moving and is also hilarious.”
--Lawrence Scott, author of Light Falling on Bamboo

"Robert Antoni doesn't make giant steps. He makes quantum--and sometimes hilarious--leaps past whatever we called metafiction to the same territory as Richard Powers and David Foster Wallace. But like those men and unlike nearly everybody else, he never forgets that at the core of it all you've still got to tell a rip-roaring story."
--Marlon James, author of The Book of Night Women

Library Journal
09/01/2013
A rollicking 19th-century colonial tale blends history with imagination as a mixed group of London citizens is motivated by a charismatic charlatan to start a utopian community in Trinidad. Interspersed throughout the narrative are passages from the present, detailing erotic liaisons that take place between a researcher and the author as he attempts to verify the facts of the story. However arduous it is to follow, the work is a virtual triumph of special effects. Making one's way through convoluted sentence structure and pages of dialect and unique spelling can be as painstaking as translating a book written in an unfamiliar language. The key question becomes whether the reader will be swept up in the magic of the long and difficult journey or be swept overboard by the torrent. VERDICT Antoni (Divina Trace) isn't a shy creator, writing for those who would welcome a challenge rather than a speedy read.—Joyce Townsend, Pittsburg, CA
Publishers Weekly
Trinidad is the sultry backdrop for an intricately imagined historical novel from Antoni (Carnival) about voyages of discovery undertaken generations apart. In 1881, William Tucker, soon to return to London, tells his son the story of why their family left England in 1845. William’s father had fallen in with the bombastic German inventor J.A. Etzler, who claimed his Satellite machine could ”save the labouring-masses” and revolutionize agriculture—that is, if he could test it at a new-world colony. Only after sailing to Trinidad aboard the Rosalind did Etzler’s colonists discover the full extent of his “boldface bamboozlement.” Still, the transatlantic pilgrimage nurtured William’s first love, with mute, beautiful Marguerite. The mystery of what happened to Etzler’s colony and to Marguerite incites the present-tense storyline, consisting of e-mails Antoni receives from Trinidad archivist Miss Ramsol, whom he “subjuices” (her word) while researching his Tucker ancestry during a visit. Her bawdily funny, patois-heavy missives showcase Antoni’s superlative ear for the intricacies of language, Caribbean rhythms in particular. And William’s account of young love attests to Antoni’s fluency in the poetry of nostalgia. In words as vibrant as the personalities he creates, Antoni deftly captures unconquered territories and the risks we’re willing to take exploring them. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell Management. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Antoni (Carnival, 2005, etc.) offers up a novel set in 19th-century and modern-day Trinidad. Some believe that John Adolphus Etzler is a con artist, but the charismatic inventor asserts that his new nature-powered machine, the Satellite, will free men from all forms of labor. Although his claims may be a bit too good to be true--in fact, the machine's public unveiling and demonstration isn't exactly stellar--British citizens of all classes are willing to fill Etzler's coffers and invest in his newly founded Tropical Emigration Society. Their dream: to establish a Utopian society in Trinidad using Etzler's apparatus. Among the emigrants is the Tucker family, including 15-year-old Willy, who narrates the story. While onboard the Rosalind, Willy contrives to spend his time with socially prominent 18-year-old Marguerite Whitechurch, who communicates through writing because she lacks vocal cords. They fall deeply in love and find creative ways to spend time together--at first furtively and then more openly as few appear to notice or care. Following the long voyage, Etzler (who spent a couple of days tied to the mast for an outrageous claim), absconds to South America and leaves the investors to travel by schooner from Port au Prince to Chaguabarriga, the site of their future community. To the men's dismay, Etzler's machine ends up stuck in the water, the schooner is damaged, and they discover that the plot they purchased is little more than swampland. The men try to salvage what they can, but more misery strikes--this time in the form of Black Vomit (yellow fever)--and Willy must wrestle with decisions that will impact the future. Although wearisome at times, the emotional influence of Willy's narrative--his loving descriptions of the people who surround him--is profoundly effective. Some may be discouraged by the characters' use of dialect, which initially is difficult to comprehend, but it's a crucial element of the story. It's the modern-day correspondence from T&T National Archives Director Miss Ramsol to writer "Robot" that provides many laugh-out-loud moments and endears Antoni (who pokes fun at himself) to the reader. Strikes strong emotional chords.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781617751561
  • Publisher: Akashic Books
  • Publication date: 9/3/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 874,554
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Robert Antoni is the author of the landmark novel Divina Trace, for which he received a Commonwealth Writers' Prize and an NEA grant. His other books include Blessed Is the Fruit, My Grandmother's Erotic Folktales, and Carnival. He was a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow (for his work on As Flies to Whatless Boys), and recently received the NALIS Lifetime Literary Award from the Trinidad & Tobago National Library. He now lives in Manhattan and teaches in the graduate writing program at the New School University.
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