Described as 'a landmark, not in the West Indian, but in the contemporary novel' by C.L.R. James, Earl Lovelace's Caribbean classic tells the story of Calvary Hill - poverty stricken, pot-holed and garbage-strewn - where the slum shacks 'leap out of the red dirt and stone, thin like smoke, fragile like kite paper, balancing on their rickety pillars as broomsticks on the edge of a juggler's nose'. The Dragon Can't Dance is a remarkable canvas of shanty-town life in which Lovelace's intimate knowledge of rural Trinidad and the Carnival as a sustaining cultural tradition are brilliantly brought to life.
Caribbean writer Lovelace, whose Salt won the 1997 Commonwealth Writer's Prize, returns with a story (first published in England in 1979) that offers a defining and luminously sensitive portrait of postcolonial island life. The island in question is recently independent Trinidad, but it could be any Caribbean island settled by European planters, African slaves, and indentured East Indians. Carnival time is at hand, and the inhabitants of the Hill, former slaves, who "survive here, holding their poverty as a possession," are getting ready for this Mardi Gras - like celebration: Steel bands are practicing, calypso singers and writers - like the diffident Philo - are creating new songs, and Aldrick Prospect, as usual, is working on his dragon costume. Aldrick, who, like most of the men, is unemployed, comes alive at Carnival, where it's his mission to do the Dragon dance, a dance that expresses all the people's frustrations and memories of their warrior past, and affirms their power - power that, if provoked, could bum down the city. But this year Aldrick, who's spumed the advances of young Sylvia, finds himself brooding. Change is in the air - those steel bands are acquiring commercial sponsors, the old fighting spirit of the people is changing to passive acceptance, and Aldrick's friends are drifting away and making new lives. After Carnival, Aldfick, feeling like "the last symbol of rebellion," continues to brood, especially when he sees Sylvia take up with Guy, a notorious womanizer. He befriends Fisheye, an angry radical, and joins a futile rebellion against the government. Aldrick is jailed but, unlike the others, doesn't accept defeat, and once released - still depressed - he returns to the Hill. Finally, a quiet epiphany and a promise of Sylvia's affection present him with hope and reason enough to give up the impotent protest of the Dragon's dance. A poignant, beautifully crafted tale about a man and his country on the cusp of change. (Kirkus Reviews)