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Crown Jewel



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Crown Jewel by Ralph De Boissiere
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De Boissiere's best-known novel, "Crown Jewel", is a story of the economic struggle of Trinidad workers in the 1930s and is regarded as one of the major political novels of the Caribbean. It is set in the 1930s at the time of the Butler riots in the oilfields of south Trinidad - part of the general disturbances in the British Caribbean during the 1930s. Set in his native Trinidad in the 1930s, "Crown Jewel" describes intricate social and racial gradations. At the bottom of the society are the "blacks" - at the top are the colonial elite, the English. One of the characters in "Crown Jewel", Andre de Courdnay, a young musician who works as a yeast salesman, is torn between an Englishwoman, the daughter of a judge, and the woman he actually loves, the teenage daughter of a Venezuelan seamstress. This young coloured girl has a fierce belief in de Courdnay as an artist capable of creating social change. What distinguishes de Boissiere's characters from so much political art is that they aren't two-dimensional. He understands the complexity of the human heart. "Crown Jewel" climaxes with the 1937 workers' revolt in Trinidad in which workers were shot by police. In the words of University of the West Indies Professor, Ken Ramchand, de Boissiere's work, "combines social realism and political commitment with a concern for the culture of the feeling within the individual in a way that is unique not only among West Indian writers but among writers with a social conscience anywhere in the world." Ramchand says that "Crown Jewel" is essential reading for an understanding of the rich possibilities of young Trinidad in the 1930s and 1940s and the subtle makings of what renowned West Indian writer, Sam Selvon, called "the Trinidadian". It was published in Britain after Salman Rushdie praised it. "Crown Jewel" was previously published in 1981 by Allison & Bushby.

Author Biography

RALPH Anthony Charles (RAC) de Boissiere was born in Trinidad in 1907, the son of solicitor Armand de Boissiere and his English wife Maude Harper. Maude died three weeks afterward, and de Boissiere was brought up by a stepmother. Growing up, he felt like a stranger in his father's house. This and a keen awareness of racial distinctions in Trinidad contributed to his own peculiar vision. To all appearances white, he sensed there was something in his family's past that kept them out of the best Trinidad society. As a child he was influenced as well by his uncle, Jean- Francois de Boissiere, who wrote a theoretical analysis of the way social and moral differences affect people's well- being. de Boissiere had an English mother, a French father and an African great-grandmother. In Trinidad, his people were called French Creoles. He never knew his mother, who died when he was three weeks old. His father, a solicitor, was a remote man. De Boissiere grew up wanting to be a musician, learning the piano. A proud, solitary spirit, he grew his hair long, refused to go to church and fed his imagination with Russian writers such as Turgenev and Chekhov. Unable to become a concert pianist, he took a job as a yeast salesman delivering to bakeries. The job opened his eyes to the condition of Trinidad's working poor, labouring for wages of less than a dollar a day while the unemployed went hungry. Crown Jewel climaxes with the 1937 workers' revolt in Trinidad in which workers were shot by police. The author's sympathy is passionately with the poor. He also contributed to the Beacon magazine, edited by Gomes and published regularly from March 1931 to November 1933. Its pages featured fiction and radical social and political commentary, left-wing but not doctrinaire. These periodicals and those who wrote for them played an important role in the emergence of modern West Indian literature. De Boissiere, Mendes, Gomes, CLR James and others met, talked, campaigned and wrote. De Boissiere is a political writer. After emigrating to Australia in 1948, he joined the Communist Party. The initial print run of Crown Jewel, published by the left-wing Australasian Book Society in 1952, was sold through political organisations. The book made its way to Eastern Europe, where it was translated into six or seven languages, and also found its way home to Trinidad. When I ask him why he came to Australia, he says, "Because I couldn't get a job!" At the bottom of the society he depicts in Crown Jewel are blacks. At the top are the colonial elite, the English. De Boissiere's family were middle class, he went to a private school. They weren't black but weren't white either. In June, 1935 de Boissiere married Ivy Alcantara. They had two daughters, Jacqueline Marie-Anne in 1937, and Marcelle Therese, born in 1938. But he and his young family had to leave Trinidad in 1947 after his political activities cost him his job.
Release date NZ
August 7th, 2006
Country of Publication
United Kingdom
New edition
diagrams, figures, b/w & colour
Lux Verbi
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