Pynter Bender, By Jacob Ross

Grenada's struggle for liberation seen through 'new and delicate eyes'
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The Independent Culture

Ten-year-old Pynter Bender was born blind but now gazes upon the world with his "new and delicate eyes", since his sight has been healed by a medicine woman. The world is depicted in all its harshness and beauty in this evocative, lyrical debut novel of life in the cane fields of pre-independence Grenada, as the Caribbean island struggles from the shackles of serfdom.

Pynter's father leaves him to be raised by a group of women, headed by his grandmother, Deeka. They believe he is a spirit child. Pynter's difference paradoxically alienates him from those around him while endowing him with a greater understanding of the complex terrain into which he is born. In three parts – "Eyes", "Hands" and "Heart" – Jacob Ross explores how cane-cutting affects the perception, the body, the feelings; how "de man who own de cane own de people too".

Ross conveys how the physical world is perceived by Pynter with a raw intensity. The passage of time is wonderfully evoked; the long, hot months of cane-cutting; the hurricane season with crabs, callaloo and crestles. The emotional landscape is also brilliantly traversed: "envy travelled like a shot of liquor through the gathering"; while hate is "like the sting of the sun on his naked skin".

In this story of a little boy who has regained his vision, who will become the revolutionary hope for a liberated future, Ross has wider insights about a serfdom which "deadened the eyes and numbed the tongue". In convincing patois and swathes of eloquent, beautiful, sometimes untamed images, he describes the ugliness of those who abuse language. Pynter had "grown accustomed to her words the way he had the sandflies that bit into his skin and left little needle points of itching there". Words are endowed with the force of objects; they "settle in his heart like stones".

This is a novel not only about the eyes', but the tongue's, power. Stories and myths are an integral part of these characters' lives: stories flow between the women about the "appetites of the men folk"; their own desires; hushed tales of terrible illness. The women demonise Pynter as coming "from beast not yooman been". Yet this portrait of the physical and psychological effects of a nation's struggle towards independence tells a powerful story about what it means to be a human being.

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