A brilliant, finely accomplished, and intensely moving novel about a very modern predicament: the malformed dysfunctional identity in the global village?
When Joshua “lair emerges from amnesia in a psychiatric hospital in Montreal, he must explore what makes him want to erase his identity; in the painful process that follows he is forced to relive his past in the fictional Caribbean island of Isabella, and learns to forgive. What emerges from his trauma and his precarious healing is the gripping story of a man's search for sanity and a place in the world.close this panel
H Nigel Thomas was born in St Vincent. He has been a teacher with the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, and professor of literature at Universite Laval. He resided in the Montreal suburb of Greenfield Park. He is the author of Spirits in the Dark (novel), which was finalist for the QFW Prize, Behind the Face of Winter (novel), and Why We Write: Conversations with African Canadian Poets and Novelists (criticism).close this panel
From the Maple Tree Literary Supplement
In his novel Return to Arcadia, H. Nigel Thomas takes his reader on an intimate healing journey into Joshua “lair” psyche. Upon awakening in a Montreal hospital with partial amnesia, Joshua soon realizes that the road to recovery is actually backwards. He is placed in the ambiguous position of having to recover the very memories that are so painful his consciousness is trying to obliterate them. If we are the sum of everything we have experienced, and our bodies their mirrors, then Joshua is the indecipherable addition of scars upon scars that are found like a map on his back. And it is this unreadable chart that he must unlock in order to be healed, like an Oedipal riddle.
Such un-resolvable spaces seem to run through the dynamics of Joshua” life: he is the child of a rape of a black woman by a plantation-owner white man, an uncomfortable homosexual dealing with masochist tendencies, and the rich heir of a woman who raised him to despise himself?to name only a few of the irresolvable dichotomies he is forced to wrestle with.
These moments of strain explode unto larger commentaries on social issues such as racism, colonialism, and sexual equality, the particular of Joshua” life reaching to the communal through the telling of his personal story. Inscribing itself as an unavoidable tale of post-colonial Caribbean literature, Joshua “lair — story is an unprotected plunge into the realities of these atrocities. Return to Arcadia re-affirms the need to continue the unveiling of historical injustices of plantation exploitation and adds to the complexity of these issues by having as a protagonist a man of mixed blood, allowing the difficulties of identity and self-definition to be pertinently addressed. These topics are a tightrope to walk on for any author and Thomas proves a skilful acrobat.
A compellingly honest, thorough, and difficult descent to the depths of the most painful of memories leads Joshua back to the place where it all began, Arcadia, the name of the plantation where he grew up on the fictitious Caribbean Island of Isabella. There, an encounter with a local healer and a spiritual experience on a mountaintop allow him to mend his past. Drawing from a mixture of dream interpretations and animist worldviews, Joshua restores and reconstructs a sense of self that finally allows him to unite all of his seemingly irreconcilable parts.
Staying clear of sentimentality, Thomas privileges a clear, insightful, precise tone, managing to infuse every heart-rending moment with warmth. The sharpness of the topics, and the difficulty of the material are coated in a gentleness from the narrator, and give the impression that the text is being offered to the reader, generously given, a thoughtfulness that is quite refreshing.
"In lean, precise prose, Return to Arcadia journeys though the unspeakable and tabooed in the contemporary Caribbean, reminding us that the brutalities of slavery and colonialism continue to raise hell and fierce memory in the more secret realms of flesh and desire." - Thomas Glave, State University of New York.close this panel