Hezekiah’s Independence

Some time ago (end of June, I do believe) I attended a book launch at Chapter One, COB’s bookstore.  The book was Hezekiah’s Independence by Freeport writer Keith A. Russell.

Now Keith Russell (known formally as Dr. Keith Russell) is the author of three novels (Hezekiah is his third) and is one of my favourite Bahamian novelists.  He deals with tough stuff in his work — dispossession, identity, injustice, all the stuff that you expect a Caribbean writer to deal with — but he does so in a readable fashion, in lovely prose, and in a very Bahamian way. The Disappearance of J.D. Sinclair tells of an island boy who comes to Nassau and doesn’t make good (for reasons, Russell argues, that are beyond his control).  When Doves Cry is harrowing, beautiful, and tragic — not going to tell you anything else except that it’s set in the Turks and Caicos and Haitian communities in Grand Bahama — communities that exist on the fringes of Freeport.

Hezekiah’s Independence (I’m quoting the bookbackblurb here) tells the

engaging tale of four generation of men—a slave who stole himself, a farmer, a poet, and a teacher …

I’ll just post a little from the book itself.  Then you go on over to Chapter One Bookstore — or, if you’re in Freeport, track Dr. Russell down — and buy yourself a copy.

When I was young I used to run with Olympic contenders, he says.

I sat straight in the chair at the little kitchen table and put down the newspaper.  He turned and stared in my direction for a moment, then returned his gaze to the opening of the door.

In Alexandria, during the war, we had to find things to occupy our time.  To kill the boredom and shorten the long meandering days.  Someone came up with the bright idea of having races.  I was the fastest runner of any regiment stationed in Alexandria.  I might have been the fastest in the entire war.  At first, we would race for food or cigarettes or to get off work detail.  Then the officers took an interest.

After that, we raced for regiment pride, or to boost moral, to banish facing the truth.  We were considered not fit to fight.  My secret was that right after my first win, I was racing to be counted, to have a measure of respect.  And not just for me.  I never told them, though, that back in Abaco there were young men who would leave me twenty yards behind in a hundred-yard-dash.  But no one ever came to see them.  No one that makes the rules anyway.  They didn’t get a chance.  They didn’t count.  those flowers never got to bloom.  And every day, even now, that makes me sad.

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