Buried Treasure

Maggie Gee on Sam Selvon's 'Moses Migrating'
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The Independent Culture

Not so much buried treasure as a fizzing land mine. The Trinidadian writer Sam Selvon is famous for The Lonely Londoners (1956), a melancholy comedy about Caribbean immigrants drifting through 1950s London. Moses Migrating (1975) is totally different. It is riotous farce, ribald, explosive and wildly funny about race. Moses plans to return to Trinidad, using a £2,000 repatriation grant from Enoch Powell; his voyage, next to the liner's engines, is a spoof on the "Middle Passage" of slavery. Once arrived, his blind love of "Brit'n" gets him into quarrels: "Nothing wrong with whites. I live with them for years. You shouldn't believe all the bad things you read about them."

Carnival looms and, loyally promoting the British currency, Moses plays a black Britannia on a giant coin, pulled by two drunken white attendants. He wins the silver cup and expects a hero's welcome at Heathrow. But when he waves the cup, his "Holy Grail", at the immigration officer, the man just "smoothly" takes away his passport and disappears, as usual.

Selvon's 1991 preface ends soberly: "Somewhere between the actuality and the dreamworld of fiction the truth about Moses - the truth about the whitewashed Black man torn apart by living in a white society - exists."

'Moses Migrating' was re-published in 1992 by Three Continents Press, with an excellent critical afterword by Susheila Nasta. Maggie Gee's new novel 'The Flood' is published by Saqi (£12.99)