(Reviewed by Tony Ross APR 10, 2008)
Originally published ten years ago, this short novel by Jamaican writer Winkler is a both a slapstick imagining of heaven and a wry look at the nature of god and faith. The title is Jamaican patois for "ghost" or "spirit" and that's exactly what middle-aged village shopkeeper Taddeus Augustus Baps becomes at the beginning of the story. Shocked by his sudden demise, he wanders his village until another duppy shows up to escort him to heaven -- which is not reached by floating up to the pearly gates, but by taking a minibus out to a canefield, and then crawling through a drainage pipe...
This more or less sets the tone for the rest of the book, in which Baps discovers that each country has its own Heaven, and in the Jamaican version, people basically get to do what they love (which in Baps' case means administering order to a village shop quite similar to his old Earthly one) -- including more or less unlimited sex (rendered in the patois as "grinding"). Baps managed to befriend God (who takes the form of a lightning bug), and together they travel to America with a wandering duppy atheist philosopher (who thinks everything he's seeing is in his head).
On this trip, Baps learns that Heaven can take many different forms, as the ultra-pious American duppys wander as robed shepherds to flocks of fat sheet, fed by thrice-daily showers of manna. Perhaps most disturbing to Baps is the absence of grinding in the American heaven, as men and women have their respective genitalia ("hoods" and "pum-pums") "caulked" shut! The Americans are also quite aggrieved (as is Baps to a certain extent) that there is no Hell and that sinners and saints live side by side with no advantages given to those who lived a pious corporeal life. This leads to some discussion as to why this is so, and moreover, why God permits bad things to happen to people. Baps is granted the power to create a world as an experiment and finds that it's not quite so easy to remove pain and misery from humanity.
The overall message is a gently satirical and warm-hearted poke at both Jamaican and American societies, all wrapped up in a very earthy package, with plenty of discussion of grinding, batties, hoods, and pum-pums. Those not already familiar with Jamaican patois may need to refer to one of the many online patois dictionaries to get into the flow, but it's not that thick. A simple glossary at the front would have been a nice addition to the U.S. edition of the book.
- Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Painted Canoe (1984)
- The Lunatic (1987; reprinted June 2007))
- The Great Yacht Race (1992)
- Going Home to Teach (1995)
- The Duppy (1997; reprinted March 2008)
- The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories (2004)
- Dog Wars (2006)
Books into Movies:
- The Lunatic (1991)
- The Annihilation of Fish (1999)
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- The Independent feature on Anthony C. Winkler
- Jamaicans. com feature on Anthony Winkler
- Caribscape review of The Duppy
- Stop Smiling review of The Duppy
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About the Author:
Anthony C. Winkler was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1942. He attended Excelsior College in Kingston and then Mt. Alvernia Academy and Cornwall College, both in Montego Bay. In 1962 he went to California, where he received B.A. and M.A. degrees in English. He returned to Jamaica in 1975; and married. He became a full-time freelance writer in 1976 after moving back to the United States. His first novel, The Painted Canoe was published in 1984 by Kingston publishers (now LMH). In 1991 he wrote the screenplay for the film version of The Lunatic, and in 1999 his original screenplay, The Annihilation of Fish, was filmed in L.A. starring James Earl Jones, Lynn Redgrave, and Margot Kidder.
While he is famous for his Jamaican stories, Winkler actually makes his living writing college textbooks. He is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and the Hollywood writers. At one time, he was very active in the Jamaican community and he was elected president of the Atlanta Jamaica Association for two terms. He coordinated hurricane Gilbert relief efforts and scholarship programs as well as bringing up plays from Jamaica.
He and his wife Cathy live in Atlanta, Georgia