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Fiction Contemporary Women

The Polished Hoe

20th Anniversary Edition

by (author) Austin Clarke

foreword by Rinaldo Walcott

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2022
Contemporary Women, Caribbean & West Indies, Feminist, Mystery & Detective
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2002
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2003
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2003
    List Price

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A special 20th anniversary edition, with a new foreword by Rinaldo Walcott.

When an elderly woman calls the police to confess to a murder, the result is a shattering all-night vigil bringing together elements of the African diaspora in one epic sweep. Set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952, the novel unravels over the course of twenty-four hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society informed by slavery.

As the novel opens, Mary Mathilda is giving confession to Sargeant, a police officer she has known all her life. The man she claims to have murdered is Mr. Bellfeels, the village plantation owner for whom she has worked for more than thirty years. Mary has also been Mr. Bellfeels’ mistress for most of that time and is the mother of his only son, Wilberforce, a successful doctor.

What transpires through Mary’s recollections is a deep meditation about the power of memory and the indomitable strength of the human spirit. Infused with Joycean overtones, this is a literary masterpiece that evokes the sensuality of the tropics and the tragic richness of Island culture.

First published in 2002, The Polished Hoe won the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Trillium Book Award.

About the authors

Culminating with the international success of The Polished Hoe in 2002, Austin Clarke has published ten novels, six short story collections, and three memoirs in the United States, England, Canada, Australia, and Holland. Storm of Fortune, the second novel in his Toronto Trilogy about the lives of Barbadian immigrants, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award in 1973. The Origin of Waves won the Rogers Communications Writers’ Development Trust Prize for Fiction in 1997. In 1999, his ninth novel,The Question, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. In 2003 he had a private audience with Queen Elisabeth in honour of his Commonwealth Prize for his tenth novel, The Polished Hoe. In 1992 Austin Clarke was honored with a Toronto Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature, and in 1997, Frontier College granted him a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1998 he was invested with the Order of Canada, and he has received four honorary doctorates. In 1999 he received the Martin Luther King Junior Award for Excellence in Writing.

Austin Clarke's profile page

Rinaldo Walcott is an associate professor at OISE, University of Toronto. His research and teaching is in the area of black diaspora cultural studies with an emphasis on queer sexualities, masculinity and cultural politics. He is the author of Black Like Who (1997); he edited Rude: Contemporary Black Canadian Cultural Criticism (2000); and the co-editor Counselling Across and Beyond Cultures (2010).

Rinaldo Walcott's profile page


  • Winner, Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Best Book (Canada and the Caribbean)
  • Winner, Trillium Book Award
  • Winner, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Editorial Reviews

There's a mesmerizing stillness to Austin Clarke's latest novel

The New York Times

An utterly extraordinary and thoroughly compelling tragedy of Shakespearean scope…stunning and heart-rending…it ought to be both widely read and deeply remembered.

Globe and Mail

It's an undeniably ambitious work...the story unfolds over one evening--which actually spans a lifetime... It was long past the time when Austin Clarke should have been acknowledged as one of Canada's most important and most accomplished writers.

Kitchener-Waterloo Record

Respect to Tindal Street Press for bringing to the UK this soaring and sorrowful novel of Caribbean life . . . The novel's language proves as lush, seductive - and dangerous - as its landscape


…brilliantly written dialogue, a rich, dancing patois that fills out the dimensions of the island's painful history and its complex caste system.

Publishers Weekly

…extremely ambitious…compulsively readable and challenging at the same time…This is an unforgettable novel.

Edmonton Journal

an incredible panorama of the post-colonial experience…an impressive work by a highly accomplished Canadian author deserved of recognition indeed.

Toronto's Women's Newspaper

The Polished Hoe is a remarkable achievement. Its story is obviously deeply felt…

The London Free Press

Austin Clarke's latest novel, The Polished Hoe, is that rare creation that soars above the earth to become more than the sum of its parts.

Books in Canada

An unqualified masterpiece.

Toronto Star

A richly crafted novel which eludes, defies categories; it is variously wistful and agonising, ironic and sensual; a tragic tale, relentlessly wrought

2003 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Jury Citation

The Polished Hoe is a magnificent, breath-taking plunge into the secret depths of human relations…Clarke is a master at capturing the flavour and nuance of language and weaving its local intricacies into universal stories.

Ottawa Citizen

…a wonderful book to meander through…

Quill & Quire

An extraordinary tale of lust and oppression . . . a beautiful light-skinned "black" woman [is] forced by the ambition of her mother and the sexual appetite of her colonial master to live a dangerous double life as beneficiary and plaything of a society steeped in racial cruelty

The Times

Other titles by Austin Clarke

Other titles by Rinaldo Walcott

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