Cecil Foster read from and discussed his new novel Independence during brunch on Saturday at the Gardiner Museum. He introduced the novel in terms of two main themes. The first he wanted readers to reflect on was their own coming to consciousness as independent selves. The novel begins with the main character Christopher’s earliest memories and then switches to jarring events in his 14th year. He is shocked at finding himself alone, but starts to learn what he is capable of and then forges new connections with others around him. Spur director Helen Walsh noted that it is a coming of age story in which Christopher is able learn things for himself rather than being spoon-fed by adults around him—although the grandmothers’ strength was duly underscored.
The second theme Foster wanted us to consider was independence on a national scale. After declarations have been made and independence has been won, how do peoples take control of their future? The novel is set in a newly independent Barbados optimistic about governments that will provide social services to people. Foster noted that in the 60s and 70s Caribbean countries produced world-class cricket teams and musicians while dealing with the impacts of foodstuff price volatility on economies; the book weaves these themes together through the means people support themselves and families, the dreams of the young and those who grapple with decisions to emigrate in hope of providing for themselves or staying and being a part of the difficult task of nation-building.
There is much talk about the importance of winning and defending freedom, as well as exalting the freedoms we do enjoy. Where Cecil Foster cuts through the noise and points to the signal is in reminding us of the responsibility that freedom implies. If we are not exercising it and acting independently, what use were the declarations, victories and current processes? Foster made a point of including and ending with hope. He discussed the importance of an orientation in which tomorrow is always envisioned as better than today. I asked him about Stuart Hall’s slight preference of routes to roots, and he noted that they are linked. Today is always a sum total of previous experiences, but it is a question of the moral choices we need to make that will give us a better tomorrow.