Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts, West Indies, and brought up in England. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. His novel Dancing in the Dark won the 2006 PEN/Beyond Margins Award, and an earlier novel, A Distant Shore, won the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. His other awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and currently lives in New York.
From the author of stunners like Cambridge (LJ 2/1/92): a brilliant assault on racial hatred that manages to connect Othello, 15th-century Venetian Jews, an Ethiopian Jew, a German Jewish girl facing the Holocaust, and more.
In all his novels, Phillips (Crossing the River, etc.), born in St. Kitts and raised in England, has experimented with voice to convey the dislocations of slavery, colonialism and postcolonialism. His sixth novel surges as well with the themes of his earlier fiction‘the experience of homelessness, the wounds and blindnesses of racism. It deals with unexpected subject matter, however: the Holocaust, allowing Phillips to boldly challenge notions of essential ethnic identity by turning from the experience of slavery to that of the German concentration camps, from pan-African nationalism to Zionism. The novel's primary voice belongs to Eva Stern, a young woman who has just been liberated by the English army from a German camp. Through a series of flashbacks and recollections, Eva remembers life with her family, and then her experience in the camp. Phillips intercuts Eva's story with two wildly discontinuous narratives: one a retelling of the story of Othello in Othello's own voice; the other an account of the 15th-century persecution of the money-lending Jews of the Italian city Portobuffole, who were accused of murdering a Christian child. Additional narratives flow in and out, including those of Gerry, the English soldier who asks Eva to marry him, and of Eva's Uncle Stephen, who left Germany to assist in the formation of the Jewish state in Israel; there are encyclopedic glosses on Othello and on the etymology of the word "ghetto" as well. Phillips makes little effort to impose coherence or to tie together loose ends, a technique that may frustrate some readers. But he brilliantly captures his various protagonists' voices, evoking their common humanity as they struggle with and against social definitions of the nature of their blood. (May)