America's Virgin Islands: A History of Human Rights and Wrongs (review)
ALeJAndrA BronFmAn longstanding ubiquity of subsistence farming in Haiti and its absence in Puerto Rico. Mintz seems to imply that the nature of the violence he witnessed derives from related entanglements of gender and honor. Here, it would have been nice to see a more overt assessment, as he is largely silent on questions of violence in Haiti and Jamaica. But the book is more than a series of comparisons. Mintz works in nuance and detail, lingering on close observation of a passing remark or
... passing remark or a flicker of thought. As he recalls a little girl's notebook with racist caricatures and his own reaction to that, or a man with several tiny plots of land who contemplates whether the seeds of a rare treat, an apple, will yield anything, he offers a methodology to navigate the boundary between anthropology and history. In an almost novelistic distillation of the work of his life, carefully drawn portraits encourage readers to stop and think, one person at a time. Considering the ways institutions or events do or do not become part of the narratives that people tell about their lives, his attention turns to words and tones: "often it is in the timbre and volume of voice that we hear (if we are listening) how the past is summoned" (p. 17). In the end, the voice becomes a fulcrum, anchoring a closing argument about the creation of creole languages as a way to narrow and refine the use of creolization to define the Caribbean. The existence of creole languages in Haiti and Jamaica and their absence in Puerto Rico stands in the final instance as an indicator of the heterogeneity at issue. And echoing Kamau Brathwaite, who insisted on the importance of listening to the sounds of the Caribbean, Mintz takes us to the voice, as an ending and a beginning.