What an amazing read! On my search to find novels set in the Guyana, I first found the wonderful "Shadows Move Among Them", by Edgar Mittelholzer, and later I found Jan Carew's debut novel "Black Midas". At first, I was reluctant to read it. I thought it would be one of those historical novels that students are asked to read at school and that are filled with facts whose only purpose to teach you a class. However, this books does an amazing job at being historical and entertaining throughout its 250 pages without even intending to do so.
"Black Midas" is the story of Aron Smart, the son of a legendary diamond and gold prospector. The first part of the book is your typical coming of age story, where Aron discovers the gift of reading and studying, as well as the pleasures of the flesh. However, afterwards, Jan Carew introduces us into the adult life of Aron, his rise and fall, and the Guyanese culture of the time: The two Guyanas of both the coast and the jungle, the villages and Georgetown. Not for a moment the novel seems didactic or educational, which was my initial fear. In a writing style that flows like the Essequibo River, Jan Carew tells the story not only of Aron Smart, but also of all those that he meets throughout his life, who help him and betray him, who love him and hate him, and who, in the end, made up the Guyana of back then.
Most of the dialogues are in Guyanese English, but the narration is in rich and fluent standard English. The novel is a real page turner, which, at the same time, makes you want to stop and ponder about what you have just read, and sometimes, even reread parts of it in order to enjoy them again. The story of the man who goes to the top of the mountain, which is first narrated in the middle and closes the book, is the epitome of life. This is one of those novels that you never want to put it down but, at the same time, you don't want it to finish, because you know that books with these characteristics are rare.
We often hear about these famous authors from South America, like Márquez and Allende, but, for some reason, writers and novels like Jan Carew's "Black Midas", and Mittelholzer's "Shadows Move Among Them", remain forgotten in spite of coming also from South America. This novel was first published in 1958 and became out of print until the Peepal Tree Press reissued it in 2009. However, there are no reviews of it anywhere on the Internet, which indicates that its revival has gone unnoticed.
Reading "Black Midas", as well as reading Mittelholzer's "Shadows Move Among Them", felt like discovering a treasure. A gem that almost makes you happy that you are one of the few who have discovered it, but that at the same time makes you wonder why they do not have the recognition that they truly deserve, like "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "The House of the Spirits".