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Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean

Diana Lebacs' The Longest Month (De Langste Maand)

by Olga E. Rojer (Author) Joseph O. Aimone (Author)
©2022 Monographs VIII, 136 Pages

Summary

This satirical novel is set in the heady atmosphere of carnival on the tropical Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, where the contradictions of postcolonial existence come to a boil that is furious, often bitingly funny, and sometimes almost intolerably tragic. And through it all, the story manages by way of a genuinely African derived rhythm to offer a message of hope. The heroine of the novel is Bir, a woman in her late sixties, the mama grandi with her ancient wisdom, a solid root of the community, dispensing medicinal herbs, advice, and motherly love. The flavor of the island is unmistakable: it is an authentic Curaçaoan story by noted Curaçaoan author Diana Lebacs. Not only is it Curaçaoan in its subject matter but in the way the story is told. It is serious but full of humor, from gentle irony to slapstick, with a lot of social satire in between. Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean: Diana Lebacs’ The Longest Month (De Langste Maand), originally written in Dutch, is suitable for courses on Caribbean and postcolonial literature, women’s writing, and for readers of fiction in general.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Diana Lebacs The Longest Month (De Langste Maand)

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We owe sincere gratitude to Diana Lebacs for the privilege of translating her novel The Longest Month. Lebacs passed away on July 11, 2022, when this book was in production. We regret that she will not see the final product. We have been heartened throughout our work by her support.

Franc Knipscheer of the Dutch publishing house Uitgeverij In de Knipscheer granted us permission to translate the novel into English, and we thank him. We are grateful to Sidney Joubert, Dr. Daniel Arbino, and Allen Greenberg, former Consul General of the United States to Curaçao, for their careful readings and thoughtful suggestions. For permission to reproduce on our cover the photograph of carnival in Curaçao, we thank Yvette Brandt-Lesire and Remi Lamar Newton.

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I.

Introduction

Olga E. Rojer and Joseph O. Aimone

It is a rare privilege to be among the pioneers who bring a literature from a small island in the southern Caribbean to a wider audience that quite literally has not seen anything much like it before. The privilege is even more humbling when the gift the translators bring is full of tragedy and history, survival and humor, and vividly works through issues of undeniable importance, such as overcoming the legacy of colonial oppression and racism.

This book lays the third stone in the edifice that is the emerging presence for English language readers of the literature of the six former Dutch colonies in the Caribbean, specifically the ABC (or Leeward) Islands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. We laid our first stone with the 2007 publication Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean: Cola Debrot’s My Black Sister and Boeli van Leeuwen’s A Stranger on Earth, in which we showcase two crucial works of postcolonial Dutch language fiction from the Dutch Caribbean written in the 1930s and the 1960s. We laid our second stone in 2012 with Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean: Carel de Haseth’s Slave and Master (Katibu di Shon), a 1988 novella widely acknowledged as an important work of serious fiction in the creole language Papiamentu, produced by an author native to the Dutch Caribbean islands. We focus now on another key work in the history of that literature, this time from 1994, Diana Lebacs’ novel in Dutch The ←1 | 2→Longest Month (De Langste Maand) written by that rare find, a woman novelist native to the Dutch Caribbean. The novel, published by premier Dutch publisher Uitgeverij In de Knipscheer, earned reprinting in 2005, and has been well received in the Dutch Caribbean as well as in the Netherlands. It is a multi-layered story written as a regional novel in the tradition which produced Caribbean authors such as Jamaica Kincaid, Earl Lovelace and Grace Hallworth.

Author, educator and artist Diana Lebacs was born in Curaçao, and, like most natives of the Caribbean, is of mixed heritage, Curaçaoan, Indonesian and Surinamese. She is best known for her children’s literature and young adult novels written in Papiamentu and Dutch, but she has also written poetry, drama, and for television. She has received regional and international recognition for her books. In 1976 she received the coveted Zilveren Griffel award in the Netherlands, the highest honor awarded for children’s literature. In Curaçao in 2003 she received the inaugural Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Caribisch Gebied cultural award. In 2007 she was knighted in the Order of Orange-Nassau, one of the most distinguished civil decorations of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Lebacs’ young adult novels and children’s writing are often a species of coming-of-age stories, what literary critic Wim Rutgers calls novels of childhood, where a young Black person grows into confident adulthood in a postcolonial society. In Sherry, het begin van een begin (Sherry, the beginning of a beginning) (1971), for example, a young Black Curaçaoan girl who looks in the mirror daily wondering sadly why she is Black, becomes a teacher and, inspired by the May 30, 1969 postcolonial revolt on the island, takes up activism. She grows into a confident young woman who observes her social and cultural environment more critically and takes as her task to raise awareness among the Black population of the changes needed on the island. And she becomes a champion of her own culture as Harry Theirlynck argues in his important 1986 study Van Maria tot Rosy. Over Antilliaanse Literatuur. Lebacs received the Zilveren Griffel for the first of the four books of the Nacho in Bonaire series about a Black boy growing up on the island of Bonaire. The Longest Month is her first novel that clearly aims to make adults its primary audience.

In contrast to the Longest Month’s main concerns, the early Dutch Caribbean classics, Debrot’s My Black Sister and Van Leeuwen’s A Stranger on Earth, written prior to the 1969 revolt, are centered on white male characters (descendants of European settlers) who feel torn, experiencing an existential crisis as they search desperately for a tenable identity in a fragmented ←2 | 3→Caribbean society that is reluctant to yield. De Haseth’s Slave and Master signals a transition away from this pure focus on the white heirs of colonialism. The novella offers us a double narrative with two protagonists, one on each side of the racial divide and both fractured by it. The work forms a kind of pivot between two eras of this literature. In fact, we can read these three texts, My Black Sister, A Stranger on Earth, and Slave and Master as a series in which each succeeding text provides a revision (almost in a Bloomian sense) of the previous texts and which anticipates what will follow. They set the stage for Diana Lebacs’ The Longest Month, in which a more complete shift is visible in fiction. Here Black characters from the poorest sections of Curaçaoan society and women’s voices are now heard center stage (a trend that had already begun in Frank Martinus Arion’s novel Doubleplay (Dubbelspel) and in poetry and theater written on the island). Lebacs brings women into the political theater of literary representation with voices of their own and out of the objectifying realm of the male dominated imaginary. The protagonist of The Longest Month, Bir, a 69-year-old Black woman, looks only to Curaçao for her culture.

The four texts in our series, My Black Sister, A Stranger on Earth, Slave and Master, and The Longest Month, trace the arc of emancipation from post-slavery to postcolonial in two ways. First, they offer a view of the historic circumstances in their fictional backgrounds, and second, they imply the changing view of their audience toward the prospect of racial equality and the final extirpation of the legacy of slavery and other forms of oppression. My Black Sister appeared in the 1930s and speaks to the basic situation of a collapsing colonial empire. A Stranger on Earth appeared in 1962 and reflects the postwar period in the world at large and the continuing racial stalemate on the island of Curaçao. Slave and Master, while it is about the slave revolt of 1795, reflects the politics of the year 1988, when it was published. The Longest Month appeared in 1994, twenty-five years after the 1969 revolt on the island, and sixteen years before the 2010 dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles and Curaçao becoming an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Details

Pages
VIII, 136
Year
2022
ISBN (PDF)
9781433194276
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433194283
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433194269
DOI
10.3726/b19217
Language
English
Publication date
2022 (August)
Keywords
Curaçao Dutch Caribbean Dutch Caribbean literature fiction postcolonial literature postcolonial studies women’s literature women writers carnival translation studies The Longest Month Olga E. Rojer Joseph O. Aimone Diana Lebacs
Published
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Lausanne, Oxford, 2022. VIII, 136 pp.

Biographical notes

Olga E. Rojer (Author) Joseph O. Aimone (Author)

Diana Lebacs, author, artist, and educator, was born in Curaçao. Most known for her children’s literature and young adult novels written in Papiamentu and Dutch, she has also written poetry and drama. Lebacs has received international recognition for her books. The Longest Month is her first novel for adults. Olga E. Rojer, PhD, is associate professor of German and Dutch Caribbean Studies at American University in Washington DC. The Longest Month is her third translated volume in the Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean series published by Peter Lang. Joseph O. Aimone, PhD, now retired from academic life, collaborated with Olga E. Rojer on the Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean series, including this volume.

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Title: Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean