There are four really funny West Indian novels: the first is VS Naipaul's Miguel Street, the second Sam Selvon's The Lonely Londoners, and the fourth is Anthony Winkler's The Duppy. (Modesty forbears me from naming the third.)
Of all these, Winkler's book is undoubtedly the most hilarious. "Duppy" is the Jamaican term for a ghost and The Duppy tells the story of the afterlife of Taddeus Augustus Baps, who drops dead one afternoon from a heart attack at the age of forty-seven.
The afterlife turns out to be a very shocking place. For one thing, everyone goes to Heaven - priest, beggar, bandit, burgher, even politicians. While this squares with the idea of an all-forgiving God, Baps, as a good Christian, is naturally outraged.
When he actually gets to Heaven (by way of a culvert in a sugar-cane field, to his even greater outrage) he finds that matters are even worse. Not only is everyone allowed to do exactly what he or she pleases, but everyone is allowed to (and capable of) having sex as often and as long as they want. Although everything is free in Heaven and money literally grows on trees, Baps becomes a shopkeeper as he was on Earth because his greatest joy is to "impose discipline and fiscal restraint on ole negar." And, to top it off, no one can stop anyone else from doing what he or she pleases.
Naturally, all this is very depressing for good Christians and, what adds insult to injury, is that no one is allowed to feel bad in Heaven: depression is uplifting and pain feels really good. When one man is kicked in the backside, he leans over and begs for another. In Heaven, it is the Americans who are most outraged at how the place is run. They blame God for this and are continually trying to trap Him. This is why there are so many Americans in Jamaican Heaven, because God has emigrated there from America and the Americans keep trying to extradite Him to face charges of "maliciously creating and obstinately maintaining an un-American Heaven." The trouble is, Heaven has only three rules and one of them is "Thou cannot capture the Lord thy God." (The other two are "Water shalt find its own level" and "Thou shalt feel good no matter what.")
Baps learns all this when he eventually meets God and becomes His good friend. God looks like a peenywally, which is a bright point of light, because, He explains to Baps, he used up most of Himself in creating the universe. She he and Baps become liming partners and, when Baps decides to visit the American Heaven, God disguises Himself as an old negar, using the blueprint from Baps mind, so that the Americans won't lynch Him when He accompanies Baps on his trip.
"The moment Almighty God became a regular ole negar it was worries from start to finish, what with the laziness, carousing, drinking binges and endless frustration," Baps records. After God changes back to a peenywally, Baps tells Him He should never have created ole negar in the first place, to which God replies that He didn't, Baps did. Baps, of course, vehemently denies this but God points out that the ole negar He turned into was what Baps thought ole negar should be. God also insists that there is good in everyone, even old negar.
To prove this point, God turns Baps into the ole negar and becomes Baps. And the question arises: "Given the chance, would Jamaican ole negar- out of the goodness of his heart -risk life and limb to rescue God from capture, experimentation, probe and assault?" The answer, it turns out from events in the next chapter, is yes; and it is in this chapter that Baps leaves a blank page for readers to thump down the book in outrage "at this cock-and-bull story." In fact, Baps says, "Personally, if it was me reading this book, I'd demand my money back."
Personally, though, I would advise anybody who wants a good laugh and some deep thoughts about religion and human hypocrisy to buy a copy of this novel. It would be money well spent.
Copyright ©1998, Kevin Baldeosingh