In Jamaica, Aloysius is tolerated by his neighbors, but forced to eke out a living by doing odd jobs and use the hospitable woodlands for shelter. Starved of human companionship, he has running conversations with trees and plants.
Then love, or a peculiar version of it, comes to Aloysius in the form of a solidly built German lady, Inga Schmidt, who has come to the Caribbean to photograph the flora and fauna. They will embark on a romance and a series of misadventures that may turn the island, and their lives, upside down . . .
“Every country (if she’s lucky) gets the Mark Twain she deserves, and Winkler is ours, bristling with savage Jamaican wit.” —Marlon James
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There was a road in the mountainous countryside and there was a ragged black madman dancing on it. On both sides of the road the land unfolded in waves of pastures dotted with groves and marked by the dips and hollows of dried-up gullies and streams. The surrounding fields were green and lovely to look at, but it was to the antics of the solitary madman that the eye was involuntarily drawn. Sometimes he would leap up and down in one spot until he was too tired to jump anymore. Then he would start off down the road on an erratic course, weaving from side to side like a drunken pedestrian. And sometimes he would shriek like a child at play, and in the very next breath he would moan like an old man under a heavy load.
Exhausted with his antics and dancing, the madman rested beside a cut-stone wall. He was panting and blowing hard for breath when suddenly he heard a noise. Since talking cows sometimes sneaked up on him, and giant birds, and beasts that defied description, the lunatic quickly ducked behind the wall to see what or who now stalked him.
He heard a scratching sound first, which made him draw a sharp breath and hold it. Then he saw a woman coming out of the bush.
She was a woman from the village on the brow of the mountain, and she was taking the shortcut through the bushland on her way to market, a heavy basket of yams swaying on her head. But now that she had come to the cut-stone wall marking the path of the road, she placed the heavy basket on the ground and blew with exertion like a winded donkey.
Glancing furtively about her, she lifted up her dress, peeled off her panties with one deft motion, and began pissing from an upright position.
The madman bounded from behind the wall with a howl of outrage.
"Jesus God Almighty!" the woman screamed.
"No wee-wee before me eye!" the madman bawled, covering his eyes and turning his head.
Recognizing the village lunatic, the woman shrieked, "Aloysius! You make me wet up me shoe, you damn brute! What you hide behind de wall for? Look what you make me do to me shoe!"
"Me no want see no pum-pum loosen water before me eye!" the madman sobbed.
She spread her legs implacably wider and continued her pissing while the lunatic turned his head away and screamed at her to stop.
When she was done she tore off a branch from a bush and wiped her legs. Then she hoisted the basket on her head, climbed over the wall, and set off down the road.
"Damn nasty negar woman!" the madman shrieked after her. "Why you come wee-wee in de bush. Woman supposed to wee-wee in a toilet, damn nasty negar woman!"
"Go 'way, you mad brute!" the woman yelled scornfully, without turning her head to look back at him.
The madman walked over to the puddle the woman had made on the ground and he took some cut stones off the wall and threw them on it. He scuffed dirt over the stones with his calloused bare feet until he had covered the dark patch her water had made in the earth.
"No come show me no pum-pum dat loosen water before me eye!" he screamed one more time.
"Hush up, mad brute!" came the faint derisive reply from far down the road.
Down the asphalt road that flowed through the green fields and between the undulating banks of two cut-stone walls, the woman trudged under the heavy basket of yams, and she cursed this damn country, this blasted Jamaica, a country where a decent woman could not even stop in the bush to catch a piss in peace without being terrified into wetting her own legs by some raving lunatic jumping out from behind a wall and carrying on like a Minister Without Portfolio. "Go 'way," she screeched crossly at the top of her lungs, for her feet were bawling about the hot sun on the hard road, and her belly crying for a cold drink, and her aching shoulders wondering why they had ever been born, just like an American teenager.
Yet she had not understood the ravings of this lunatic Aloysius, who now clambered through the thicket and who from a distance she might have mistaken for a grotesque and enormous black bird, his hair being matted and dirty, his appearance woefully shredded by life in the bushland.
For all his unkempt and wild looks he was still a man, and to a man a pum-pum is like a bone to a hungry dog. It is a thing a man will dream about even if he is hungry and sick. He cannot help himself, for Almighty God put pum-pum between the legs of women and then he put dreams about it into the heads of men, even into the head of a lunatic.
Every day Aloysius saw women in the village and smelled their rich black and brown bodies and stared as they wriggled past him, their pum-pums hidden under calico frocks and pink panties, guarded by watchful constables, suspicious boyfriends, and bad dogs. But all he had done for years was look at women and dream. Because he was known by everyone in the village to be a homeless lunatic, all the pum-pum in the parish was closed to him. No woman would permit him to put to her the feverish arguments that man is born to put to woman. And now this impertinent pum-pum, the first he'd seen in years, had the nerve to callously wee-wee right under his nose and then saunter away with a basket of yams on its head as though he were a stone or a bush and not a man starving for a woman.
What he had just witnessed, this lunatic was telling himself sorrowfully, was just such a sight as could shock a man into madness, and as he walked through the bush he fought to control his emotions.
"De woman was rude and out of order!" the lunatic screamed suddenly and fiercely to a lignum vitae tree.
Out of order: a parliamentary phrase that Milud and Milady of the fallen British Empire might use to scold one another at Whitehall. Yet after three hundred years of colonialism by the ancestors of Milud and Milady, it is a phrase that Jamaicans of all walks of life use to signify outrage, indecency, impropriety — even a woeful madman such as this Aloysius.CHAPTER 2
Aloysius Hobson was the proper name of this madman. But when the madness was raging inside him, he claimed to have a thousand names that he bellowed out on the street corners for all the world to hear. Around him the villagers thought it unsafe to even whisper the word "name" for fear he would overhear and begin ranting and raving his bogus names in the voice of the madhouse.
Last year one of the villagers had had an elderly aunt from America staying with her, and this relative fell into conversation with Aloysius on the street and asked him his name, and the lunatic immediately began to spout: "Aloysius Gossamer Longshoreman Technocracy Predominate Involuted Enraptured Parliamentarian Patriarch Verdure Emulative Perihelion Dichotomy Intellectual Chaste Iron-Curtain Linkage Colonialistic Dilapidated ..."
Believing this to be some bizarre form of village humor, the woman interrupted with a hollow laugh and the harmless remark, "How can anybody name 'Longshoreman'?" which drew an indignant cry from the lunatic and a ferocious onslaught of, "Impracticable Loquacious Predilection Abomination Vichyssoise Pyrrhic Mountebank Unconscionable Altercation Lookalike Partition Bosky Pigeon-toed Dentition ..."
A crowd gathered quickly in the village street to witness the antics of the ranting madman, who had pinned the aunt by the wrists to prevent her from running away before he could recite his entire name.
The aunt was struggling in the grip of the raving Aloysius, the crowd was swirling restlessly at its edges, poised between taunting the madman and fleeing from him, when the village constable hurried over to quell the disturbance.
"He won't let go!" the aunt screamed, wriggling in the grip of the lunatic.
"Aloysius!" the constable barked. "Aloysius, what you name?"
The lunatic turned his fierce glare on the constable.
"Me say," he croaked, "me name Aloysius Gossamer Longshoreman Technocracy Predominate Involuted Enraptured ..."
"How dat go again?" the constable asked, prying the lunatic's fingers off the wrists of the struggling, terrified aunt. "Start from the beginning, I think I miss one."
"Listen! Clean out your ears!" Aloysius shrieked.
"My fault," the constable said gently, freeing the aunt. "I hard o' hearing. Start from de beginning."
Pried free, the terrified aunt ran sobbing toward her niece's house while the lunatic began his chant once again, "Me say, me name is Aloysius Gossamer Longshoreman Technocracy Predominate ..." to the delight of the gleeful crowd.
"Too much blasted noise in de street," the constable interrupted again, "too many inquisitive people. Start from de beginning and come wid me down to de station house where me can hear you whole name."
The madman paused in mid-recital, a glowering look of suspicion clouding his black face.
"Station house? You say station house?"
"Yes, so me can hear you whole name," the constable explained, putting on a most reasonable air.
"All right," Aloysius assented. "Make we go."
But as soon as the constable started to elbow his way through the surrounding throng, Aloysius bolted in the other direction and ran through the village street shrieking, "Aloysius Gossamer Longshoreman Technocracy Predominate Involuted Enraptured Parliamentarian Patriarch Verdure ..."
All stood in their tracks and watched the madman streak past the market and disappear into the bush.
"Boy, me could never catch him," the constable said, making a sucking sound of finality through his teeth. "Me belly too full wid de mackerel and green banana me eat fe breakfast."
How did this lunatic who could not read learn so many words? Some he had learned in the streets of Ocho Rios from the Rastafarians, the men of the beard who smoked the ganja weed and dreamed of going back to Africa.
These Rastafarians, who called themselves the brethren, were a good source of words, even if they disapproved of pork eating, for they were avid Bible-readers and had learned many words to describe Africa. On the street corners of Ocho Rios, while a sleek white tourist ship sat contentedly in the harbor preening itself like a fat swan, Aloysius would sit among the brethren, smoking the weed with them and listening to the words they used for Africa.
It was a place of great beauty, the brethren said, this Africa, this motherland they yearned for like a foundling for its natural mother. The black man belonged to that gentle country — he had sprung from its soil; the waters of its rivers and streams ran through his veins. When the brethren spoke about Africa, they were the sons of a rich father longing for Christmas.
Listening to the men dreaming about their lost homeland taught Aloysius many new words that became a part of his name.
But most of the words he knew and took as his name Aloysius had learned from the new brown-skinned teacher at the village school. She was a young woman from the parish of Clarendon who walked through the village with her nose in the air saying nothing to the villagers except "Good morning," or "Good afternoon," or "Goodnight," when she passed them in the streets.
This stuck-up teacher was also a great one for reading. Late at night the villagers would see the yellow stain of light from a kerosene lantern against her curtained window. During the daytime hours, she walked through the village streets with an unabridged dictionary between the crook of her arm like a fat chicken. At recess, when the children were playing boisterously in the school yard, she sat by herself under a tree and read.
Now the government admitted that the schools were overcrowded and classes were too large and facilities were bad, but in the very next breath the government always said that there was no money for improvement and that every teacher must try to do his best with what little was available.
In the case of this school teacher, her class of fifty-five students was held in a common room along with five other classes, with only a blackboard positioned between them. The old teachers knew that the only way to teach in such an overcrowded and noisy room was to have the students recite their lessons in unison. So when one class was learning geography, the students could be heard chanting, "The capital of St. James is Montego Bay; the capital of St. Catherine is Spanish Town; the capital of Westmoreland is Sav-La-Mar." And in the arithmetic class only a thin blackboard away, another fifty students would also be chorusing, "Twice one is two, twice two is four, twice three is six, twice four is eight, twice five is ten," and next to these, another fifty students might be reciting important dates in the life of a foreigner named Columbus.
The school was often so noisy from all this continuous reciting that even far way in the bush the children's voices would carry to the ear of the laboring villager as a faintly cacophonous buzz of facts and multiplication and dates, and his heart would swell with pride to think that his child was among the learners bleating these fundamental truths.
But this vain new teacher taught her children little geography and only the occasional multiplication table. Mainly she taught them words, words, and more words. Nothing galled this teacher more than to reflect on the wicked unfairness of vocabulary. Why should a white Englishman be able to say about a dog that it was "docile" while the children of a poor black Jamaican could only mutter that it was "tame"? If he chose to be boastful about it, the Englishman could even add about the dog that it was "compliant, pliable, tractable, submissive, amenable," and "yielding." "Tame, tame, and more tame" was all the poor tormented black children could reply. What was fair about that? What was just about a white man having twenty names for a tame dog while a poor black child had only one? Which bank would be willing to entrust responsibility to a negar clerk who could call a tame dog by only one name?
But to her children the dog would be everything the Englishman could say plus another five or ten words more. Other children in the school might have a "pain," but hers suffered "anguish, paroxysm, throe, distress, pang, twinge," and "woe." During daylight hours she caused her students to bawl out definitions of words with such authority that the learned chanteys of the neighboring children were drowned out under bellowings of: "Idiomatic — in accordance with the individual nature of a language" or "Nascent — coming into being; being born" or "Famulus — an assistant, especially of a medieval scholar."
When Aloysius found out what this new teacher was doing, he began hiding under the window nearest to her class and would crouch there listening to and repeating the words chanted by the children. Here he picked up: "Gossamer — a filmy cobweb floating in the air or spread on bushes or grass" and "Technocracy — government by technicians, specifically, the theory or doctrine of a proposed system of government in which all economic resources, and hence the entire social system, would be controlled by scientists and engineers." Here he learned most of his thousand names.
But one day the teacher spotted him outside the window and marched immediately to the principal.
"What is this?" she asked indignantly. "Now I must teach lunatics too?"
Alarmed, the principal jumped up from his chair.
"One of your children has gone mad!" he cried in anguish. "I knew it! Too much blessed vocabulary! I told you you can't come in here and teach the whole blessed Oxford dictionary to country children."
"I'm talking about a genuine lunatic," the teacher said frostily, "who is lurking under my windowsill. He hides there every day."
The principle ducked out the door and returned in a moment looking vastly relieved.
"Oh," he shrugged. "That's only Aloysius. He doesn't trouble anybody."
"I refuse to teach vocabulary to a lunatic. He must move from under my window."
"Listen, Miss Williams," the principal said earnestly, "you're new here. Believe me, I know the ways of these people. One harmless madman under a window doesn't trouble anybody. Why make a fuss?"
"I don't care if is one madman or fifty. It's the principle of the thing. I am not going to teach vocabulary to a lunatic, sir."
"Lawd, Miss Williams," the principal pleaded, lapsing into a little sociable patois, "ease up a little, nuh? He's just a harmless fellow. He likes to hear the lessons."
"Mr. Raffety," she hissed, "vocabulary is not for lunatics."
So Aloysius was forced from the school. At first he resisted. He argued with the principal and he even flew into a rage and screamed out two hundred of his names for all the schoolchildren to hear. But then the constable came and chased him into the bush and when Aloysius returned the next day, hoping to sneak back under the window, he found that the principal had tied a bad dog to that side of the school building. Being afraid of dogs, Aloysius was forced to stand far away from the window while the animal looked him in the eye and bared its teeth and the children taunted him with the new words the teacher had taught them: "Dementia — loss or impairment of mental powers due to insanity;" "Berserk — in or into a state of violent or destructive rage or frenzy;" "Run amok — to rush about in a frenzy."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Lunatic"
Copyright © 2007 Anthony C. Winkler.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had never heard of Anthony C. Winkler before receiving information from Akashic Books that they were republishing his 1980s comic novel, The Lunatic. But I've seen interesting titles from the house before, so asked for a review copy - and I'm delighted that I did. The story concerns a Aloysius, a Jamaican madman who claims a thousand names, who talks to trees, bushes, and rocks and lives alone in the open forests. He eventually meets a German tourist who sees the world through the lens of a camera and sex. They improbably become lovers, eventually add a third - a butcher - and go through a series of experiences and situations, culminating in the robbery of a rich man's house. I've seen references to Winkler as Jamaica's Mark Twain. His humor manages to be both earthy - the running comments about sex and how it dominates life are funny in a way I find little sexual humor to be - and cerebral at the same time. But the humor isn't something to be enjoyed for its own sake. Winkler uses smiles and laughs as tools to further both the story and the ideas behind it. He deftly starts blending the worlds of the sane and the mad until they mingle, and suddenly he shows how much of modern society really is crazy, and how basic decency is too often viewed as a type of insanity. But that quality really is redemptive. Winkler's use of symbolism is smooth and deep. The thousand names theme, for example, brings an association with the Hindi concept of the thousand names of God, each of which describe an aspect of the deity. The list of words - Aloysius Gossamer Longshoreman Technocracy Predominate Involuted ... and so on - actually read like a list of attributes of life and of people. They were all names he heard, sneaking outside a classroom because he had a desire to learn something. Aloysius isn't a deity, yet he seems to walk with God. Instead of seeing the change in him, we see the changes he works, just by his presence, in all around him. He calls forth mercy, a connection to the world, and true love. Winkler is also a master of language. The book's pacing is smart - fast but not driven - and his use of dialect leaves the characters, and eventually the narration, ringing in your mind. Well, at least mine. I'd strongly recommend this book for a pleasure read that lets something more substantial sneak up on you.
Anthony Winkler really brings out the true lunatic in everyone. Through peals and bellows of laughter I read this book many a time- each time bringing the same eruption of laughter from me. Mr. Winkler writes so real that we can easily relate the characters in the story to some people we know in real life. I enjoyed this book so much that I could not resist the urge of renting the movie-which made me erupt with laughter even more. This book is one in a million and I think that owning a copy of it should be on every avid book collectors list. I Give Mr. Winkler all the thumbs up that I can. I would instantly recommend that everybody who is going through some rough times read this book, for it will surely lift the load of their shoulders. I do not hestitate on advising people on reading this gem. This is the laughter pot of them all. Mr. Winkler has surely outdone himself.
This is undoubtedly the funniest book I have ever read. 10 years ago in my college dorm through peals of laughter, which had everyone thinking I had gone mad - as mad as Aloysius - I read this tale in 24 hours. Since then I have reread the book several times and given copies as gifts for a variety of occasions. Each time, the response of belly ripping laughter has been the same. This is a true depiction of the quintessential Jamaican rural mad man. Those of us who grew up in rural Jamaica know an Aloysius. The theme might seem like a simple silly Jamaican comedy, but the writing style is eloquent and easy. Tony does not skip a beat. I have two criticisms; the first is that we end on an anti-climax as if the writer ran out of ideas or he became tired of writing. Therefore I felt that the tale ended too abruptly. Then again, this feeling could also be due to my desire to have this story go on and on. My second criticism is that I sensed a touch of Condescension by the narattor to ordinary poor country folk. In the Jamaican context, the church going old woman who slept with the mad man would hardly have done such a thing. But then again this is fiction. I guees the problem for me is that when fiction mimics real life so closely, one wants consistency throughout. Nevertheless, I give this five stars - and more - every time I read it.
A funny read.