My love affair with 'the book' - Derek Walcott's first book of poetry that is. VS Naipaul first heard of it as a school pupil in 1949, laid eyes on it in 1955 and met its author in 1960. Walcott at 18 was already a legend of the islands. In a rhapsodic 2-page spread (and an extract from his forthcoming book, 'A Writer's People - Ways of Looking and Feeling'), Naipaul writes about his fellow islander, Walcott.
Excerpt - "The competing empires of Europe had beaten fiercely on these islands, repeopled after the aborigines had gone, turned into sugar islands, places of the lash, where fortunes could be made, sugar the new gold. And at the end, after slavery and sugar, Europe had left behind nothing that could be called a civilisation, no great architecture, no idea of local beauty, no memory of style and splendour (the splendour created by the sugar wealth would have occurred elsewhere, in Europe), only the smallest small change of civility. Everything that remained was touched with the pain of slavery: the brutalities of the popular language, and the prejudices of race: nothing a man would wish to call his own. And when, in the 1940s, middle-class people with no home but the islands began to understand the emptiness they were inheriting (before black people claimed it all) they longed for a local culture, something of their very own, to give them a place in the world.
Walcott in 1949 more than met their need. He sang the praises of the emptiness; he gave it a kind of intellectual substance. He gave their unhappiness a racial twist that made it more manageable."
And let's not forget this profile of the Booker winning author of The Famished Road, Ben Okri, whose new novel, Starbook will (as is the wonderful fad these days) be published in Nigeria almost the same time as the UK.
About the new book - This book, he says, was "the fruit of a personal transformation through fire and suffering, and eventually through humility". He admits a link to a period of bereavement, when his mother, Grace, died in 1996 (an "appalling, emptying experience") and his father, Silver, in 1998. "It's Mum, it's Dad - it's Africa," he says. "Africa's pain, invisibility, misconception. One's living it all the time. Not just the media perception of it, but in terms of individual lives - the stuff you see in people's eyes. How Africa's perceived; how we perceive, and fail to perceive, one another."