Beyond the Limbo Silence - reviewed by Susan L. Yung
Review by Susan L. Yung
Read this book! It has been a longtime since I had read a good book especially about the civil rights struggles of the sixties.
Elizabeth Nunez's fictional book "Beyond the Limbo Silence", is set in 1963 with the author's character, Sara Edgehill, a petite, astute, quiet, bookwarmish girl whose coming-of-age is developed between her Trinidadian homeland and her scholastic survival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She joins two other West Indian American girls, Angela, from British Guyana whose ancestors were indentured slaves from India, and Courtney from St. Lucia whose roots are from the Yoruba tribes of Africa. These three girls are isolated in the wintry north among the yellow wheat fields and waves of Anglo faces who are liberal enough to accept these girls as classmates and "friends". Sara's sensitivities and point of view are clearly delineated where she deals independently with the racial political defiance of her parent's submission and resistance in Trinidad to the remote isolation of Wisconsin's abolitionist attitudes and its Waspish differences to Mississippi's civil rights movement.
Besides "coming of age", Elizabeth writes about Sara coping with her family's deaths and its affects on the living as oppose to western concepts of death. Sara has created her own world where she fantasizes a sea cow or a sea mermaid, dragging her cousin into the Sargasso Sea as he drowns. He once had an opportunity to leave the impoverished island but opted to work in the mines. In addition, by the end of the book, Sara learns and accepts the cult of the Obeah whether a man or a woman who practices the arts of healing and the psyche. The hardships of developing, approaching, becoming and entering into womanhood, Sara is advised by Courtney's words: "Her words filled my ears: Love yourself. Open yourself to your spirit. Know yourself. (thyself)). Courtney secretly is a practitioner of the Yoruba culture. She is an Obeah woman who saves Sara's spirit. The love combined with the ancient arts of the Obeah cult is a very powerful medicine.
These three girls are living in isolation from other people of color in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in a dormitory managed by successful Catholic nuns. The only nun mentioned in the book is Sister Agnes, who also advises Sara about being beautiful even though she felt like an ugly duckling. Later, Sara confronts the sister about why she deserves a scholarship when a few miles away, there are many Negroes who need to be educated. Sister Agnes strongly explains that giving her the scholarship is more beneficial than giving the scholarship to the local Negroes. As Elizabeth Nunez writes:
These (white) people don't see what your boyfriend sees in Mississippi. They think the Negroes are pushing too fast. Too quickly. They think they're forcing the hands of the white people in the South. I can't judge them and neither can you. I don't like what's happening in Mississippi. I don't like what the whites are doing, but I haven't lived in their shoes. 'There, but for the grace of God, go I.' Perhaps if I had slaves, and I had treated them well-- ...
Force, conflict, wars, they never set things right. That's how the people here see it. They think the courts should settle this matter.....Nothing can be won with a war. And that's what this is. A second Civil War. People here don't think it's right. The South should know better how much there's to lose. People here won't take sides. They won't participate. If you go to Mississippi they'll (scholarship donors) think you're using their hard-earned money to support a fight they don't think is necessary. Or justified. And they won't take any more chances with any of you. That may mean Courtney, and Angela, too. Do you understand? I'm talking about their scholarships, also. Do you want that responsibility? ...
Is that what you want? You'll return to Trinidad a failure. ...
This is a form to reconcile the American history of slavery.
This 321-page book is worth reading in a week whose plots is layered with many thoughts and the struggles for freedoms in America.