Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Finds: “The Faces of Love”

Another in our growing line of vintage book covers we love.

The Faces of Love, by John Hearne (WDL Books, 1959).
Illustration by Edgar Hodges.

I had intended to write about this 1959 paperback novel only because of the egregious typo in its top cover line. How in the world did the obvious misspelling “Carribean” make it past editors and art directors, and into print? This must have been particularly galling to its author, John Hearne, who—though he was born in Montreal, Canada, in February 1926—was the light-skinned, mixed-race son of Jamaican parents, did his first undergraduate studies at Jamaica College in the island capital of Kingston, and spent much of his adulthood teaching and writing in the West Indies.

However, as I researched John Edgar Colwell (or Caulwell) Hearne, I came to realize that The Faces of Love—originally published in hardcover in 1957—deserved more than a snarky comment about oblivious proofreading. This was the author’s third novel, following Voices Under the Window (a 1955 yarn said to be “narrated entirely in flashback, … focus[ing] on a young lawyer at the point of death reflecting on his ultimately lethal involvement in Jamaican politics and his racial origins”) and Stranger at the Gate (1956). Like that latter work, The Faces of Love (which was first released in the United States under the title The Eye of the Storm) was set, according to Wikipedia, “in the imaginary island of Cayuna, which is a fictionalized Jamaica” (“right down to Green Stripe beer,” adds Jamaican poet-professor Mervyn Morris). A non-fiction work, The Novel in Africa and the Caribbean since 1950 (2016), edited by Simon Gikandi, explains that Hearne’s novels
generally focus on the educated, brown-skinned middle-class stratus of Caribbean society. Hearne was clearly interested in class position and anti-colonial politics … However, Hearne is most famous for his rich and sensitive depictions of everyday middle-class life and love on the fictional Caribbean island of Cayuna. The Faces of Love (1957), for example, details a multiplicity of love relationships between characters, concentrating on the dilemma of Rachel Ascom, a newly wealthy and powerful [mixed-race] newspaper executive choosing between the love of a rowdy local builder and a British expatriate brought in to edit her newspaper.
After The Faces of Love, this author’s next pair of novels—The Autumn Equinox (1959) and Land of the Living (1961)—also used Cayuna as their backdrop and “referred to issues relating to Jamaican life at the time, such as the beginning of the bauxite industry and the Rastafari movement, or to events in nearby territories such as the [1950s] Cuban Revolution.” Hearne later produced The Sure Salvation (1981), an alternately pessimistic and terrifying tale set aboard a slave ship, which Britain’s Times Literary Supplement called “an absorbing novel. The old power of the sea story to provide pleasure and instruction seems to be as potent as ever ...” And again per Wikipedia: “In the late 1960s and early 1970s he collaborated with planter and journalist Morris Cargill on a series of three thrillers—Fever Grass, The Candywine Development, and The Checkerboard Caper—involving an imaginary Jamaican secret service. These were written under the pseudonym ‘John Morris.’”

(Right) The 1957 Faber and Faber hardcover edition of The Faces of Love.

Yet in the wake of his Cayuna series seeing publication, Hearne’s novel-writing career tapered off noticeably. “After 1961,” recalls an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, “Hearne busied himself teaching, working for the government, writing plays and commentaries for radio and television, and producing a regular newspaper column in one of the leading daily papers of Jamaica [The Gleaner]. His articles appeared in Public Opinion, News Week, New Statesman, Nation, Pagoda, and Spotlight. Several of his radio plays were aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Between 1962 and 1992 Hearne served as director of the Creative Arts Center at the University of the West Indies, and as chair of the Institute of Jamaica. He also taught for short periods at several universities in Canada and the United States.”

And following his death in Jamaica in 1994, at age 68, Hearne’s books slowly began to disappear. “John Hearne almost suffered the fate most writers dread most: oblivion,” observed a feature piece in the Caribbean Airlines magazine, Caribbean Beat, in 2005. “His works quickly became unavailable and his reputation faded just as rapidly.” Kwame Dawes, a Ghana-born poet who grew up in Jamaica, was quoted in that article as saying, Hearne “sadly, proves that it is quite possible for a writer of significant ability and accomplishment to go out of print and be virtually forgotten.”

However, in 2005 the UK-based publisher Peepal Tree Press—which claims to be the “Home of the Best in Caribbean & Black British Writing”—reprinted Hearne’s debut novel, Voices Under the Window, for a whole new generation of readers. Most of whom, I’d bet, know perfectly well how many Rs and Bs there should be in “Caribbean.” (Forgive me, but I had to get in one snide remark.)

READ MORE:‘I Am Looking for a Hero,’” by F.S.J. Ledgister (The Caribbean Review of Books).

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