Montague Kobbé: On Living and Writing in Anguilla
The Caribbean is, above all, a sentiment, a rhythm, a way of life. In this respect, I grew up in a place that is both essentially Caribbean and, at the same time, desperately seeking to avoid its Caribbean nature. I am referring to Caracas, the schizophrenic metropolis of Venezuela, a city that, once upon a time, was referred to as the “New York of South America”—home to several million people who live in its urban area, as well as several million more who struggle on a daily basis to survive in the marginalized periphery.
Growing up in Caracas, in a distant outpost of Western culture, exposed me to two different but complementary and highly common phenomena: the almost institutionalized and likely inevitable perception that anything from the North—from the various centers of power—was clearly superior, which resulted in a collective inferiority complex whereby anything local was deemed deficient. Loosely connected to this general condition was my family’s predilection to look outward for rest and inspiration, which meant we would frequently spend our holidays abroad.
Anguilla was our favorite destination, though dozens of trips to other islands over the years afforded me a sense of belonging and deep-rooted affection for the region in general. Hence, when I decided in 2008 to spend a long season away writing a novel, going to Anguilla was an obvious choice.
The main framework of The Night of the Rambler is inspired by very specific events of the Anguilla revolution, which I was familiarized with from an early age through direct contact with some of its protagonists. Nevertheless, from the start, my interest in writing this novel was closely linked to a desire to reverse the effects of the common condition of local derision, as described above. Those effects, allied with conceptual concerns about history and narrative techniques, were the general precepts with which I embarked on the project. Then came the firsthand experiences of living in Anguilla, which in a short period of time deformed, reshaped, and fully transfigured my original idea of the novel.
Enumerating every single one of the aspects that caused an impression in me posed an unexpected challenge—and, quite plainly, changed my life (and my perception of it) when I first moved back to the Caribbean after almost ten years of semi-nomadic existence in the UK and Germany—would take another novel, and might well be the focus of my next project. However, beyond the beauty of the island or the pace of life there, the thing that struck me the most (and which constituted the greatest contrast coming from the manic anonymity of London) was the fact that in the islands, every person makes a difference.
In a small and closely-knit community, such as Anguilla’s, the experience, the talent, and the competence of each of its members are prized possessions and valuable assets. There might be issues of bureaucracy and conflicts of interest to resolve, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to specific needs within the society and the individuals who can fulfill them. This means that every addition to the social construct of the island becomes a palpable and perfectly real expression of new potential—a potential that previously, without such addition, could not have been realized.
Having lived in big cities all my life, I have always treasured the impersonal element of huge urban conglomerates, where individual self-immersion occurs simultaneously and in close proximity, generating innumerable parallel universes which are almost totally (yet not quite) independent of each other. Living in Anguilla constitutes a diametric opposite experience to living in London, but strangely, the particulars of what I feared could be a daunting imposition became truly enjoyable and uniquely enlightening. As I sit in my flat writing this and think back to the time I spent in the West Indies, all I can say is: I can’t wait to get out there again to write the next one!
* * *
MONTAGUE KOBBÉ was born in Caracas, Venezuela. For the past decade he has sought the perfect balance between literature and life, residing at different times in Bristol, Leeds, London, and Munich. He has had close ties to the island-nation of Anguilla for over twenty-five years, splitting much of his time between the “Rock” and Europe since 2008. He maintains a regular literary column in the WEEKender supplement of Sint Maarten’s Daily Herald and his work has been published in Anguilla, Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Venezuela, Spain, and the UK, among others. He currently lives in London. The Night of the Rambler is his first novel.
Posted: Sep 10, 2013