Even in Paradise

Even in Paradise

by Elizabeth Nunez

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Overview

Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez


"King Lear in the Caribbean--except in this novel, the flattery and deceit of Glynis (Goneril) and Rebecca (Regan) lose out to the principled, honest love of their younger sister, Corinne (Cordelia)."
--O, the Oprah Magazine, 10 Titles to Pick Up Now

Named a Must-Read Book by the New York Post

"An epic tale of family betrayal and manipulation couched in superbly engaging prose and peopled with deftly drawn characters. In a story structure as rhythmic as the ebb and flow of the water surrounding Trinidad and Barbados, this revisiting of the classic story of King Lear becomes a subtle, organic exploration of politics, class, race, and privilege. A dazzling, epic triumph."
--Kirkus Reviews, Starred review

"[Narrator] Émile remarks on parallels to King Lear repeatedly, but there is much more to unpack here. The issue of racism is woven throughout, as are regional problems such as access to Barbados's beaches and poverty in Jamaica's Tivoli Gardens. This is also a celebration of the arts, culture, and natural beauty of the islands. Shakespeare's work is a tragedy, but for Émile 'the future shimmers before [him] full of wondrous possibilities.' Nunez treats her source material with a deft touch, making this story impressive in its own right."
--Publishers Weekly

"Nunez's textured and engaging novel explores familial discord, along with questions of kinship and self-identity....With a nod to King Lear, Nunez crafts an introspective tale as her vividly drawn characters navigate complications of heritage, race, and loyalty."
--Booklist

"Even if you're not familiar with King Lear, William Shakespeare's great tragedy, you will still enjoy Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez...The author's drama heads to a new place: the Caribbean. We meet Peter Ducksworth, a widower of English ancestry, who retires to beatific Barbados...Ducksworth’s plan to divide his land evenly among his three daughters goes horribly awry when he cuts off his youngest. Having been deceived by the older two, he sees his dreams of a heaven on earth turn hellish. Nunez inspires with this one."
--Essence Magazine

"Nunez has written a Caribbean reimagining of King Lear that adds colonialism and racism to the story of three sisters, the men they love and their battle over the deed to their father's beloved property. Themes of greed, jealousy and resentment play out after their father confuses flattery with love and disowns his favorite daughter."
--Ms. Magazine

"Novelist Nunez, who tackled The Tempest in her 2006 novel, Prospero’s Daughter, here offers a retelling of King Lear. Both novels feature a cast of multicultural characters and a Caribbean setting."
--Library Journal

Peter Ducksworth, a Trinidadian widower of English ancestry, retires to Barbados, believing he will find an earthly paradise there. He decides to divide his land among his three daughters while he is alive, his intention not unlike that of King Lear, who hoped "That future strife/May be prevented now." But Lear made the fatal mistake of confusing flattery with love, and so does Ducksworth. Feeling snubbed by his youngest daughter, Ducksworth decides that only after he dies will she receive her portion of the land. In the meantime, he gives his two older daughters their portions, ironically setting in motion the very strife he hoped to prevent.

Beautifully written in elegant prose, this is a novel about greed, resentment, jealousy, betrayal, and romantic love in the postcolonial world of the Caribbean, giving us a diverse cast of characters of African, Indian, Chinese, Syrian/Lebanese, and English ancestry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617754401
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 04/05/2016
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 936,125
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Nunez is the award-winning author of a memoir and nine novels, four of them selected asNew York TimesEditors' Choice. Her two most recent books areNot for Everyday Use, a memoir, which won the 2015 prestigious Hurston Wright Legacy Award for nonfiction, and the novelEven in Paradise, a contemporary version of Shakespeare'sKing Lear.Her other novels are:Boundaries(nominated for the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Fiction);Anna In-Between(PEN Oakland Award for Literary Excellence and long-listed for an IMPAC Dublin International Literary Award);Prospero's Daughter(2010 Trinidad and Tobago One Book, One Community selection, and the 2006 Florida Center for the Literary Arts One Book, One Community);Bruised Hibiscus(American Book Award);Beyond the Limbo Silence (Independent Publishers Book Award);Grace;Discretion; andWhen Rocks Dance. Nunez received her PhD from New York University and is a Distinguished Professor at Hunter College, CUNY, where she teaches courses on Caribbean Women Writers and Creative Writing.

Read an Excerpt

Even in Paradise


By Elizabeth Nunez

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Nunez
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61775-440-1


CHAPTER 1

I met Corinne Ducksworth when she was a young girl, just turned twelve. There was nothing about her or about the day I first saw her to give me the slightest warning that years later I would fall hopelessly in love with her. At sixteen, I considered myself already a man, and Corinne, to my mind, was still a child.

She had come with her father, Peter Ducksworth, to the racetracks at the Queen's Park Savannah, in the heart of Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital, and I had come with mine. My father, being a stickler for punctuality, had insisted we arrive some fifteen minutes early and I was forced to wait on one of the green wood benches that lined the sidewalk around the Savannah while my father paced, glancing back and forth from the racetracks to the street, checking his watch and mumbling under his breath about inconsiderate people who think nothing about wasting other people's time. He was facing the opposite direction when I saw the Ducksworths coming toward us, the daughter skipping ahead, two thick plaits swinging across her face, legs long and gangly like a young colt's, girlish knobby knees, the father trailing behind her, red-faced, huffing and puffing.

"Sorry, old man." He extended a thick, sweaty hand to my father. "Had to wait for her."

He tossed his head in his daughter's direction and pursed his lips as if he were angry with her, but I could tell he was pretending for I did not miss the gleam in his eyes. I had already been told that Corinne Ducksworth was Peter Ducksworth's favorite child, the youngest of his three daughters, the apple of his eye.

"Oh, Daddy." Corinne raised herself on her tiptoes and kissed her father on the cheek, disarming him completely. The lips softened, the gleam intensified, proving the rumors not unfounded. "You know I was the one waiting for you," she said gaily.

"Had to have my coffee." Peter Ducksworth grinned sheepishly at my father. "Keeps me alert this early in the morning."

My father shook his hand and then glanced again at his watch. The Ducksworths were five minutes late, an eternity for my father. "Sun will be up soon," he grunted.

It was dark, not quite dawn, the stars still visible, shining like diamonds in the navy-blue sky. Dew beaded the grass in the Savannah, skirting above the cool damp earth and signaling the first hints of the coming heat. It had rained all week and the ground was sodden beneath our feet. Along the path to the racetracks and some distance beyond, the Savannah was potholed with pools of thick mud that clung to clumps of grass, making it seem as though tiny brown and green bouquets tied with string had been deliberately planted there.

Corinne was far ahead of us, skipping happily again, a silhouette of arms and legs flung backward and forward until she slipped and I saw her go down, sliding across the wet grass. Peter Ducksworth roared with laughter and quickened his pace toward her. "Well, you wanted to come with me," he said, stretching out his hand to help her up. "I told you it would be messy here."

She screwed up her face, lips and nose twisted comically, turned away from him, and tried to brace herself up on the palms of her hands. Feisty, I thought, but she slipped again and this time I rushed to help her. Her hands were clotted with mud that spread over mine when I pulled her up and for a split second our eyes met. Was that the moment she pierced my heart?

"Don't know why they call this a savannah," Ducksworth said, casting a disapproving eye at me before turning back to his daughter. "Look at your shorts. They're covered in mud." He fished out a handkerchief from his pants pocket and handed it to her. From where I stood, I could see there were brownish stains on it.

"Daddy!" she cried, and pushed away the handkerchief. "It's filthy. I told you I'll wash your clothes if you put them in the hamper."

"Use it anyhow." He waved the dirty handkerchief at her.

"Put it away." She wiped her hands on her shorts, spreading the mud even farther across the back and front.

My father's head jerked backward involuntarily and his mouth fell open. But if he were shocked by Corinne's defiance (I had never dared to defy him so openly), he said nothing, though I had not failed to notice the tightening of the muscles in his jaw when he closed his mouth.

"My daughter," Ducksworth said, balling up the handkerchief and shoving it in his pocket, "she has her own mind. But she looks after me. Right, Corinne?" He winked at her.

"When you let me, Daddy," she said.

"It's this place," Ducksworth grumbled. "Always muddy. Queen's Park Savannah, hah! No more park than a savannah."

And strictly speaking, he was right, for the Queen's Park Savannah — we referred to it simply as The Savannah — was neither a savannah nor a park, though indeed, in the hundred and sixty-five years before we gained our independence, it was once the property of the reigning British monarch since Trinidad was among the chain of islands in the Caribbean that belonged to England after she won her battles with Spain in 1797.

Enslaved Africans, driven mercilessly under a broiling sun, had planted sugarcane here, where we now stood — Peter Ducksworth and his daughter, my father and I — turning what had been a rainforest thick with massive trees and bushes into a thriving sugarcane plantation so that the English could have proper parks in the motherland: Pemberley, where the dashing Mr. Darcy romanced the beautiful Elizabeth Bennet; Mansfield Park, where poor, innocent Fanny Price was cowed into silence when she dared to ask Sir Thomas Bertram what business he had in Antigua that had kept him away from his home for so many long months.

When the horrors of slave labor ended in the British West Indies, Queen's Park Savannah became a cattle pasture, and I suppose that is how it got its reputation as a savannah, for it resembled one: wide swaths of grassy flatland surrounded by big trees that had survived the deforestation, the ground cleared to plant sugarcane. Then someone had the idea that the area could indeed be a sort of park — a park for sports, that is. A cricket mound was erected, a rugby field too, and, of course, a racetrack, where my father, who had a distaste for the slightest whiff of gambling, had been persuaded to accompany Peter Ducksworth, who had come to say goodbye to the last of his racehorses, the ones still remaining in the stables after the races had moved east, to Arima. He needed a friend at his side, Peter Ducksworth said to my father. "Who knows if I could have a relapse?"

My father, John Baxter, was not Peter Ducksworth's friend. He was his doctor, the most prominent surgeon on the island, an important and highly regarded man. And he looked the part: tall, erect, and formidable in his three-piece dark suits, always clean-shaven but with a meticulously trimmed mustache that shadowed what would have been attractive lips — the bottom lip slightly fuller than the top — had he smiled more often. By most standards he would have been considered a handsome man — skin the color of warm caramel, clear brown eyes, an impressive square jaw, his height the envy of most men. But though generally people are drawn to handsome men, my father had such a serious air about him that he intimidated even his colleagues, so it seemed odd to me that Peter Ducksworth would refer to him as a friend.

Ordinarily my father did not attend to patients in their homes. Peter Ducksworth, however, was a cousin of the minister of health, who controlled the purse that financed the efficient running of the hospital. When the minister asked my father as a special favor to take care of Ducksworth in his home, my father obliged.

Ducksworth had inherited five racehorses from his father, who was at heart an inveterate gambler. Yet Peter Ducksworth had no stomach for the roller-coaster world of horseracing. Still, he liked the horses and long after his father died he kept them — until he was bitten by a mosquito in the Caroni Swamp and would have died from a severe bout of the West Nile virus had my father not saved him.

Mosquitoes, it is often said, can be discriminating. They like fresh blood, foreign blood. Peter Ducksworth was not a foreigner even though without any mixing of the bloods he could trace his family back to the mother country. As Jean Rhys's Rochester observed of his West Indian wife, "Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either." And Peter Ducksworth was not English or European either, though his hair was sandy brown, his eyes blue, and his skin, weathered by the sun, would have been pale as the insides of an almond had he lived in the cold climes of the northern countries.

Peter Ducksworth was Trinidadian; he considered himself a Trinidadian, a Caribbean man, someone who could be completely at home in any of the English-speaking Caribbean islands. Like the English families who had made the islands their home for generations, he spoke with his whole body, with his head, his shoulders, his hands — very un-English expressive movements punctuating the rise and fall of his Trinidadian lilt. He danced like a Trinidadian too, with his hips, not just his legs. Years later, when I saw him dance, it was hard to keep from laughing for he was a solid man. He carried his weight in his broad shoulders, wide chest, and ballooning belly, but his legs were thin and when he danced he looked as if he were balancing a colossus on sticks.

Ducksworth loved calypso and steelpan. Carnival was his favorite festival and it was a source of pride for him that one of his own, Peter Minshall, a descendant too from the English, was for years the owner and costume designer of the best Carnival band in Trinidad. And so, as a true Trini man, Peter Ducksworth didn't hesitate to join his Trinidadian friends — the dark-skinned ones — on a trip down the Caroni Swamp to watch the scarlet ibis return from their feeding grounds in Venezuela to roost on the mangrove trees.

"You have to watch out for the mosquitoes, though," his friend George had warned him.

"Just me, or you too?"

The others laughed. "They don't like peppery blood," one scoffed.

Ducksworth knew of course what they were talking about. He was not dark skinned like they were, but, as most Trinidadians, he liked his food spicy and would complain if his cook did not put enough pepper in it. Rumor had it that once, when a whole pepper in his pelau burst, he continued eating without even stopping to cool his tongue with water.

"We'll see who they bite first," he challenged them.

They lost their way in a turn in the swamp, blindsided by the low-hanging branches of the mangroves that crisscrossed each other from one side of the narrow river swamp to the other, making it difficult to see in front of them. Without warning, their pirogue hit a buzz saw of mosquitoes. They were all bitten; only Peter Ducksworth got infected with the parasite.

For days he lay in a delirium, hallucinating and burning up with fever, unable to hold down solids or liquids. My father was called to attend to him. I don't think my father administered more than the usual treatment — intravenous liquids to keep him hydrated — but when Ducksworth recovered, he announced that my father was a miracle worker who had not only rescued him from the jaws of death, but had given him a new lease on life. He would no longer put off for tomorrow what he wanted to do today. And what he wanted to do, had always wanted to do for years now, was to live in Barbados. He loved the sea, but the sea in Trinidad was either brown on one side or rough on the other: to the west and south, laden with silt draining from the Orinoco River; to the east, buffeted by the relentless trade winds that eroded the roots of coconut trees; and on the north, except for a smattering of coves where there were wide sandy beaches, was the Atlantic Ocean, big and powerful, slapping huge waves against gigantic black rocks stranded from the shore.

Paradise, Ducksworth called Barbados. The sea there was as blue as the sky, the beaches long and wide, and the sand sparkling white. If he were in Barbados, he could swim in the sea every day, and every day the sea would be blue and clear as glass wherever he went. His wife was dead now many years. His eldest daughter Glynis was sixteen. At the end of the year she would sit for the CXC exam that had replaced the Cambridge O-level exam from colonial times. It would be easy to get her into a good school in Barbados the following year where she could take the CAPE exam, the equivalent of the British A-level exam, which like the CXC was set by the Caribbean Examination Council for the English-speaking Commonwealth Caribbean countries and was required for entry into the University of the West Indies. Rebecca, the middle girl, was one year younger than Glynis, and he worried that changing schools in the year before her CXC exams would put her at a disadvantage. He thought about boarding her at the convent school in Trinidad, but he knew that Rebecca would never agree. She was attached to Glynis. "Like a lost puppy," he said. "She wouldn't know what to do if Glynis wasn't there to tell her." Corinne was twelve. She would begin secondary school that September and would have to go to a different school anyhow. But it had never entered Peter Ducksworth's mind to be separated from his youngest daughter, his joy. This was his chance, he told my father, to have the life he always wanted. He had stayed in Trinidad for his wife's sake, but the miracle that my father had wrought for him was a sure sign that the time was right to make his move. He would sell his assets and relocate. The racehorses were part of his assets.

We were on our way to the racetracks when my father told me this. He said Ducksworth had sold all his horses except one, which was especially hard for him to give up. "When he was in his delirium, Mr. Ducksworth kept mumbling two names, Corinne and Raven," he said. "Of course, I knew Corinne is his youngest daughter, but I didn't know who Raven was until he told me it was his father's old horse. I suppose I felt sorry for him. He must have known, as I did, that the only reason someone's going to pay him for an old horse is to slaughter it for its meat and use the bones and tissues for glue."

I had not thought my father so caring, but then there was a lot I did not know about him, as he did not know about me. He did not know that I had been to the racetracks many times, and though this was the first time I had seen Corinne, I had already met her father.

Ducksworth too had not known I was John Baxter's son. He was still grumbling about his daughter's stubbornness — "I told her the tracks would be muddy, but she wouldn't listen" — when suddenly he turned to me. "You stay behind and watch that she doesn't fall again while I go with Dr. Baxter to negotiate a price for my horse. I'll give you two dollars for your trouble."

My father may have been surprised by his manner of speaking to me, but he gave no indication. He simply informed Ducksworth that it would not be necessary to pay me to look after his daughter. "Émile doesn't need the money," he said.

"I don't think Trevor makes that much at the tracks," Ducksworth countered, "especially now that there are no more races in the Savannah."

"Trevor?" My father arched his eyebrows.

"He's the best groom in Trinidad. Not so, Émile?" Ducksworth slapped me on the back.

I cast my eyes downward and slid my feet on the grass, pretending I was wiping off the mud on the bottom of my shoes.

"Isn't that right, young man?" Ducksworth insisted.

"I suppose so," I mumbled, feeling the heat of my father's eyes on me.

"Don't be shy," Ducksworth said. "You should be proud of your father."

"His father?" Reproof dripped from the upward tilt of my father's voice and I cringed.

"Comes here with him," Ducksworth said. "But not often enough though. You could learn a thing or two if you came with him more often, Émile. Like I said, Trevor's the best in the business."

"Émile?" My father had not taken his eyes off me; he was waiting for my explanation.

"He's not my father, Mr. Ducksworth," I said, finally looking up.

"Not your father?"

"Dr. Baxter is my father."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez. Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Nunez. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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