Nunez, Elizabeth 1944–

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Nunez, Elizabeth 1944-

(Also wrote as Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell) Trinidadian-born American novelist.

INTRODUCTION

Nunez is a respected humanities scholar and English professor who, from 1986 to 2000, directed the National Black Writers Conference, the panelists for which have included such notable black authors as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Derek Walcott. Chair of the PEN American Open Book Committee, which focuses on providing people of color access to the publishing industry, Nunez is also the author of several novels, including Beyond the Limbo Silence (1998), which received the Independent Publishers Book Award in 1999, and Bruised Hibiscus (1994), which won the American Book Award in 2001.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Born in 1944 in Cocorite, Trinidad, Nunez was raised in a family of eleven children. She immigrated to the United States at the age of nineteen, after finishing high school, then earned an undergraduate degree from Marian College in 1967. She subsequently entered New York University, earning a master's degree in 1971 and a Ph.D. in 1977, both in English. She became affiliated with the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1972, where she has been credited with creating and initiating a variety of academic programs, and where she holds the position of Distinguished Professor of English at Medgar Evers College. In addition to her teaching duties, she has also served as executive producer for the CUNY television series Black Writers in America. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Sojourner Truth Award from the National Association of Black Business and Professional Women's Clubs, the 1999 Carter G. Woodson Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and the 2003 Caribbean American Heritage Award. She has also received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Marian College for her contributions to the arts and education.

MAJOR WORKS

Nunez's first novel, When Rocks Dance (1986), is set in Trinidad during the colonial era, and treats such themes as power, wealth, education, the patriarchy, ritual sacrifices, the spiritual realm, freedom, land ownership, and African tradition. The novel opens with the story of Emilia, a native woman whose lover is an Englishman. His wife is barren, and he promises Emilia a tract of land if she can provide him with an heir. Emilia subsequently gives birth three separate times to sets of twins, yet all die at birth, a result of Emilia's having been cursed by the Igbo spirits. In order to break the spell she must sacrifice her fourth set of twins, who are born alive. She offers them to the gods by leaving them in the forest to die. Emilia then has a ninth child, a girl she names Marina, who displays the strengths of all her siblings before her. She is beautiful, strong, and seemingly immune from the illnesses and pitfalls of life. Bruised Hibiscus is set in a Trinidad village in the 1950s and involves murder and sexual violence. The main characters, Rosa and Zuela, who were close for a time during adolescence, are reunited amid the widespread terror that results from two shocking and monstrous murders. Beyond the Limbo Silence is told from the first-person point of view of emotionally fragile Sara Edgehill, a college student from the Caribbean who is awarded a scholarship to attend a Catholic college in Wisconsin. Exploring relationships between blacks from diverse cultural and political backgrounds, the novel relates how Sara falls in love with one of the few other blacks at the school, Sam Maxwell, an African American law student and political activist who leaves her for Mississippi, where his colleagues, the real-life Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Earl Chaney, disappear. During the course of the novel, another student, Courtney, is transmogrified into an Obeahwoman, and helps Sara reclaim her African and Caribbean heritage.

Discretion (2002) is the story of man torn between two worlds, neither of which he can give up. Oufoula Sindede is a diplomat from an unnamed African country. Schooled in Western ways as a child, Oufoula is a Christian who learned to love Shakespeare and play tennis. He has a traditional marriage to his wife, Nerida, whom he loves, and a decades-long passion for Marguerite, a Jamaican-born painter who lives in New York City, and who refuses to engage in an affair with the married man. Over the twenty years since they first met, he has been unable to put her out of his mind. The story opens with Oufoula, at fifty-five, reconnecting with Marguerite. Grace (2003) also features a male protagonist, Justin Peters, a black Trinidadian and Harvard graduate who teaches at a small college in Brooklyn. Justin is criticized by Afrocentric colleagues for his concentration on the works of "Dead White Men"; his wife, Sally, a Harlem-born poet and teacher, tries to recapture her reason for living as she suffers from the memories of her physician father being killed by the Ku Klux Klan, and her mother's mental breakdown in the aftermath. The one thing the couple have in common is their love for their young daughter. When Sally, confused and depressed, moves out of the house and in with a female friend, Justin is bewildered by Sally's actions and fears that she will ultimately leave him. Prospero's Daughter (2006) is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Set on Chacachacare, a small island off the coast of Trinidad, the novel revolves around the depraved and racist Doctor Peter Gardner, who has hidden himself and his young daughter, Virginia, on the sparsely populated island to avoid prosecution for the often-deadly experiments he has conducted on unsuspecting human victims. Taking over the home and land of the dark-skinned orphan Carlos, who is being cared for by a terminally ill woman, the doctor amuses himself by attempting to "civilize" the boy, who eventually falls in love with Gardner's daughter. The enraged doctor then accuses Carlos of attempted rape.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Overall, Nunez's novels have been praised and highly recommended by reviewers. Many critics regard her writing as symbolically and metaphorically rich, and laud her multilayered and complex plots, many of which address sociocultural issues revolving around race, gender, and class. She has been singled out for her evocation of the Caribbean landscape and is noted as a major contributor to the field of Caribbean literature. In addition to discussing Nunez as a feminist writer, focusing on her treatment of women and their resistance to colonial oppression, several observers note the spiritual dimension in her work, finding its source in the indigenous Trinidadian culture. Some view this aspect of her fiction as the author's condemnation of Western society, while others argue that it expresses the idea that black individuals can survive in American culture only by preserving traditional African and Caribbean religious and social beliefs. Many other scholars commend her contribution to African diaspora literature, and favorably compare her writing style to that of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.

PRINCIPAL WORKS

When Rocks Dance [as Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell] (novel) 1986

Bruised Hibiscus (novel) 1994

Beyond the Limbo Silence (novel) 1998

Defining Ourselves: Black Writers in the 90s [coeditor with Brenda M. Greene] (essays) 1999

Discretion (novel) 2002

Grace (novel) 2003

Stories from Blue Latitudes: Caribbean Women Writers at Home and Abroad [coeditor with Jennifer Sparrow] 2005

Prospero's Daughter (novel) 2006

CRITICISM

Leah Creque-Harris (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Creque-Harris, Leah. "When Rocks Dance: An Evaluation." In Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, edited by Selwyn R. Cudjoe, pp. 159-63. Wellesley, Mass.: Calaloux Publications, 1990.

[In the essay that follows, Creque-Harris offers an overview of When Rocks Dance, focusing on how the author intermixes thematic concerns—colonialism, African tradition, capitalism, ritual sacrifice, and power—with the novel's questions of gender, race, and social status.]

When Rocks Dance is Elizabeth Nuñez-Harrell's first novel set in her native Trinidad that describes the resistance of three women to their disfranchised condition during the colonialist era of the late nineteenth century. Historically, this postslavery epoch in Trinidadian history was characterized by the economic change from a society dependent upon the production of cocoa and sugar cane to the discovery of oil, the source of the nation's wealth and impetus for multinational exploitation and of the industrialization of the society. Despite the emergence of an international identity of a second-generation population descended from African slaves, Asian indentured servants, and European colonists, there was no place for the black woman in this society. The struggle of these Afro-Caribbean women is intricately linked with the oppression of other ethnic groups, the indigenous Indians whose people have been annihilated and banished to the borders of Venezuela and the indentured class of Asians represented by the East Indian overseer, Ranjit.

The triple dynamics of race, gender, and class greatly affected the lives of the three central characters. Women had no legal rights or access to the traditional measures of wealth without benefit of marriage or inheritance. Emilia's quest for power through land ownership, the predominant conflict of this novel, is a reaction of protest to her experience as the concubine of two European landowners in succession upon whom she is totally dependent for basic survival.

Education also was a privilege denied to women of this era. Virginia, adopted by a childless European couple, attained the coveted ability to read and write, as well as an affinity for Shakespeare through the auspices of her white foster mother, who endeavored to erase Virginia's ethnic origin through acculturation.

Although these two women come from different backgrounds (Emilia is uneducated, uncultured, and amoral, while Virginia is well-bred), their life experiences have taught them how precarious and unstable their status is and how important power and wealth are for their survival. Both women were orphaned in childhood and would have been homeless but for the patronage of whites (Emilia as the concubine of Hrothgar and Virginia as the foster child of the Smiths). Both women were subjected to abuse as the sex objects of men. Emilia becomes a concubine at age twelve to maintain a roof over her head, and Virginia's foster father begins to lust after her in her adolescence, which causes her foster mother to remove her from their home via an arranged marriage to a Portuguese planter. From this experience, Emilia learned the importance of land ownership. Virginia, who already possessed land from her "dowry" and late husband, knew the importance of prestige and status.

The theme of land ownership and prestige as a life's goal is in keeping with the literary tradition of Caribbean women writers as exemplified in Paule Marshall's Browngirl, Brownstones. In this tradition, land ownership refers to the ancestral memory of African kinship with the earth and the brutal displacement of African people by slavery. Beyond economic security, property ownership is a legal mode to protest to the violation of one's inherent rights. Nuñez-Harrell keeps this ancestral memory alive throughout the text with accurate accounts of the middle passage experience and the genocide of the native Indians. Secondarily, this quest for land symbolizes the stereotypical feminine trait in nature to seek a nest, a home for the shelter, and security of her offspring.

Emilia endures the pain and humiliation of several unsuccessful pregnancies ending in stillbirths due scientifically to strangulation on the umbilical chord and metaphysically to the Ibo taboo of bearing twins, to reclaim the land for her own security, her progeny, and her people. Hrothgar, in desperate need of an heir, promises that she will inherit his cocoa estate if she bears him a son who lives.

Thus begins her quest for autonomy and power—the ability to control and shape one's environment. In this patriarchal, colonialist setting, power is attained through economic wealth, political might through organized numbers, armed struggle, or spiritual acumen by transcending the oppression of the physical realm to effect change.

Emilia begins to suspect through her continual failure to validate herself as a woman through motherhood that she is indeed cursed according to the Ibo legend. It becomes obvious that she cannot attain her desired economic security without first acknowledging the religion and spiritual powers of her African ancestors as syncretized in the new world in the form of obeah (or in Christian terms, first seeking the kingdom of God).

In this call for authenticity and loyalty to one's heritage, Emilia begins to seek salvation through a spiritual journey back to her African homeland. This marks an important juncture in the novel when Nuñez-Harrell presents a reordering of the universe revolving around a theology of liberation where African gods preside alongside Christian rituals to heal the particular sociopolitical condition of colonized people.

The Ibo priest who administered to Emilia's condition warned that her curse could only be lifted through the sacrifice of her soon-to-be-born twin sons. After this ritualistic sacrifice she will bear a child who will be destined for wealth. With the assistance of the Warao Indian whose animistic religion confirmed the obeah prophecy, Emilia sacrifices her first opportunity to be a mother and gives birth to a beautiful mulatta daughter, Marina, who grows up to scorn her mother's plight yet embraces her thirst for land ownership. This sacrifice, though it appears savage, is analogous to the Christian sacrifice of God's "only begotten son so that others may live."

Marina's destiny is linked with Antonio de Balboa, her future husband and the son of Virginia and the Portuguese planter, Vasco de Balboa. As was true for her mother, her birthright of wealth and security from the de Balboa estate is dependent upon her giving birth to a child. She must first, however, break the curse on Antonio, whose first three wives died in childbirth. It is implied that since she embodied the spirits of her eight brothers, she is strong enough to survive this curse without harm.

Although Marina's physicality is female she is, in essence, a male. Is it the author's intent that it would take a masculine identity to possess such power? Or is there strength in the union of genders? This may refer to the obeah or voodoo practice of indiscriminate possession by deities regardless of sex.

Both Antonio and Marina are "children of the damned," of parents who sold their souls rather than live in truth. Here again, when one violates their authenticity, they are condemned. The motif of the sins of the father being visited upon the son is reenacted. Antonio's father was a Roman Catholic priest who defected for academic freedom and became further disillusioned after witnessing the atrocities of slavery. He married and impregnated Virginia only to realize his sin and thereafter ceased to perform as her husband, rendering her a bitter and lonely woman perversely clinging to her relationship with her son. In the telling of this story Nuñez-Harrell introduces the proverbial myth of Oedipus, which the early Greeks created to understand the complexity of their existence and the notion of kinship.

Virginia's demands for Antonio's attention and affection are a frustrated enactment of power over her domicile that cannot be enacted in this patriarchal society. Marina's presence as her daughter-in-law threatens not only her domain but also her European convention. Moreover, Virginia fears Marina's reputed powers and is repelled by the presence of obeah that she discovers in her home. She assumes that Marina, like her mother, is a practitioner of obeah. In reality, what caused Virginia's hysteria at the discovery of obeah in her home was her deep-rooted racial ambivalence as a black female raised by a white woman.

Eventually, Antonio's curse threatens Marina's life when she becomes ill while pregnant with twins. Emilia intervenes with obeah to save her daughter's life. Like her mother in her younger days, Marina is reluctant to use obeah but finally yields to its promise.

Through an eclectic use of spiritual powers which defy science and make a mockery of modern medicine, Marina safely delivers twins, one boy and one girl, and the lives of Emilia and Virginia are restored to order. The trinity archetype as a symbol of divine power is used throughout the unfolding of this drama. The trio of characters alternately represents the three branches of the trinity in this three-tiered examination of women's quest for power in this island whose name is derived from its topological representation of the trinity—one mountain with three peaks. At the moment of greatest danger, when Marina is at the brink of death, these three strong-willed, disparate women are united in their belief and affirmation of African tradition as the source of their salvation. Alternately, each represents the forces of the trinity: Emilia displays the reproductive power of God, the Mother/Father. As God the daughter/son, Marina's life exemplifies the divine aspect of humankind as a way of life. Her destiny as a woman of wealth and power is the fulfillment of divine promise as a devotee of a New World religion. Then there is God the Holy consummate Spirit moving in and through humanity giving knowledge where there is none. Through this spirit, Virginia surrenders to seek obeah after the medical doctor that she summoned, using her white connections, failed to heal Marina.

The obeah ritual that saved Marina's life was achieved through a male medium, who went into a trance to bring the body of Christ to Marina. Antonio had to participate in this ritual by going to a Catholic Mass, receiving communion to bring the unbroken host to Alma, the Diviner, as penance for his father's sin of breaking the vows of chastity and deserting the priesthood. This ritual, which mingles the sacrament of the Catholic church with the obeah ritual, is significant as a mechanism for paying homage to obeah. Again sacrifice is the element of salvation, and Marina's life is saved through the sacrifice of a male. The medium never returns to life from his trancelike state.

At the closing of this story all of the men who are pivotal characters in this story diminish in importance. Antonio is compelled to leave Marina after burning Smith's home to get Marina's property back. Virginia's foster father dies, and the Warao retreats to Venezuela having completed the cycle to wrench the land from the white man's hands. All the men have wielded their limited powers leaving the women as survivors. The Trinidadian expression from which the title is derived, "What right have eggs among rocks when they are dancing?" aptly describes why the fragile and cowardly men in the novel moved out of the way to allow the triumph of strong women. None of the male-female relationships in this book are romantically fulfilling.

The ultimate success of these women in attaining control over their lives can be attributed to the bonding that takes place among them as they become united in their struggle to secure the promise of the future through Marina and her children. It is through these mother-daughter bonds that these women develop their autonomy. In the absence of real mothers, Emilia and Virginia discover their identities through mother Africa. Marina develops the characteristics of self-determination and independence from her mother's transmission of these values, as is often the case with black women worldwide. Although many mothers of the black race would not claim to be feminists, their approach to survival is decidedly feminist.

Elizabeth Nuñez-Harrell has crafted an engaging narrative rich in symbolism and metaphor that is a composite of familiar and traditional themes and of literary devices. As an accomplished scholar in the humanities, she has blended such familiar themes as the tragic mulatto, the noble savage, and the oedipal conflict with the romanticism of the African past contrasted with a critique on the destructiveness of colonialism and capitalism. Although these contrivances along with the superimposed feminist point of view make the telling of the story self-conscious, these devices are appropriately used to handle the complex weaving of issues on race, gender, and class in a multicultural society.

Thelma B. Thompson-Deloatch (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Thompson-Deloatch, Thelma B. "Fire and Ice: The Socioeconomics of Romantic Love in When the Rocks Dance by Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell." In ArmsAkimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature, edited by Janice Lee Liddell and Yakini Belinda Kemp, pp. 117-29. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

[In this essay, Thompson-Deloatch studies how the ownership of land in When Rocks Dance is connected to economic independence and power, and how "the land supplants the love bond in marriages and unions."]

Somewhere among the older Jamaican rhymes and quips is, or was, this couplet:

Men are dogs, they are made to roam
Women are cats to stay at home.

To the Caribbean woman writer, the deeper cultural norm that supports such a notion is well known and well examined. It is the basis for Susheila Nasta's observation that "the post-colonial woman writer is not only involved in making herself heard, in changing the architecture of male-centered ideologies and languages…. [S]he has also to subvert and demythologize indigenous male writings and traditions which seek to label her" (xv).

Critical exegeses on Caribbean women's writings are replete with examinations of the contrasting issues represented in this literature: past/present/future, oppressor/victim, youth/age, native/foreign. But one focus that marks the emergence of Caribbean women's fiction as significant is the varied responses to the female dilemma and their varied strategies for resistance and survival.

In Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell's novel When Rocks Dance, seemingly, a conscious effort is made to include the various oppositional forces that tend to appear in the postcolonial writings. The novel takes its integrity from conflicts whose roots rest in the colonial system; race; and gender, class, politics, religion, culture, history, and geography. Romantic in the classical sense, the novel balances the mythical with the historic and sociological concepts of womanhood and seeks to resolve selected conflicts through very old methods of land tenure now seized by new hands—the black woman's hands.

The ownership of land has been a fundamental manifestation of power in most societies. The land, mother earth, has been the source of economic, social, and political might, as well as a cause for war for eons, and it is Ileana Rodriguez who best captures the concept as it relates to colonial societies. She writes, "In all writings on ‘nation,’ there is a truth which some locate in the strict terrain of language and words … [O]thers, like myself, situate [this truth] in the discussion of land, territory, and land tenure, that is, in the political arena of struggle…. Both theories, one linguistic, the other political, fight for the representation of nation. But this ‘nation’ … is a nation in which neither Indians, nor blacks nor women have a space" (4).

Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell and other female Caribbean writers are settling the linguistic notion, but the political fight for recognition and representation is often explored in fictional constructs such as When Rocks Dance. In this case, the land supplants the love bond in marriages and unions. Used as a substitute for romantic love and its attendant features, the possession of land fails as a sustaining basis for family life, even if it offers socioeconomic place or space to the characters. In some significant way, by grounding the novel in the land, Nunez-Harrell calls attention to the most enduring recorded problem of humankind, the cause of feuds, disputes, and wars, ancient and modern—land, territory, borders, the economic significance to individuals and nations, and the national "love" relationships based upon resources.

When Rocks Dance is an essentially feminist novel, taking its name from an African proverb that posits that men are like eggs while women are the rocks of society. It asks, also, "when rocks dance, what right have you among them if you are an egg?" (298), suggesting a selective fraternization of the sexes. The plot reveals women who maintain equilibrium, while the male characters suffer emotional disintegration as the complex pressures of Caribbean life become personal. This classical, romantic novel explores "the region's historical conflicts" through romantic love and exposes the eternal cultural resistance to colonial hegemony that exists and persists in most colonized states regardless of the pronouncements of love, church, and government.

The novel opens with the common-law relationship of an old English cocoa planter, Hrothgar, and a young, shrewd Trinidadian woman, Emilia, who becomes his lover two months after her twelfth birthday and after the death of her mother, the cook. "He promised that if she would bear him a son, old man that he was, he would will his cocoa estate and his house to her upon his death…. That promise made her endure long nights of his body pressing roughly into hers…. She stayed in Hrothgar's bed to reclaim the land" (WRD [When Rocks Dance ] 12, 13). The image of the oppressor is a vivid one and the idea of the colonist as a material rapist has been well discussed elsewhere in postcolonial nonfiction.

Such situations give rise to critical observations such as that of Rodriguez, who observes that, "tied more to Independence and the Founding Fathers of the land, the modern woman finds that the only exit possible is through money. Capital/dowry provides the vocabulary for discussing the relation of a marriage/nation-state" (xv). The truism of the interrelatedness of socioeconomics and romantic unions is carried out from the beginning of the novel with Emilia's resolve, to the end with Virginia's visit to the landowning Indian.

Founded upon utilitarian principles, Emilia's and Hrothgar's relationship epitomizes the crux of colonialism, exploitation, and greed. It is not surprising that Emilia's eight sons (four pairs of twins) die, or that upon the advice of the Ibo obeah man they are abandoned soon after their birth. The only child Emilia manages to raise is a daughter, Marina, who survives because she is imbued with the spirit of eight men—her dead brothers, given back to the land.

Beyond the fact that twins die because children need love to survive emotionally, Emilia's twin boys are used as currency, "blood money" to purchase the valued cocoa land from the perceived "oppressor." Emilia's aim now is to reclaim from Hrothgar that which he has seized—mother earth and herself, the boys' birth mother. Emilia's daughter—without realizing that her mother's lot was not by choice, as hers is—later reminds Emilia that there is a name for women who exact a price for their sexual services.

Unaware of Emilia's needs, the proud and elated Hrothgar, the aged father of twin sons for the fourth time, held high hopes that these boys would continue his tradition. Hrothgar "called them his cocoa planters. He made them over-seers…. Hrothgar penned his will…. The boys would be his heirs. They would send the ‘Portogee’ trader to the devil and make the Negroes till the soil" (18). Knowing from the obeah man, however, that these boys would not live, Emilia leaves them in the forest in an attempt to rid herself of a curse. She seduces Hrothgar with obeah and in the heat of his passion informs him that the twins are "sleeping in the cocoa patch." This knowledge turns the old man's love to hate even as his hope turns to madness and hers to despair, for male heirs are never to be his and the land was never to be hers. Her contract to deliver live sons is as broken as her husband's last hope of having heirs. The nothingness of Hrothgar's later life then manifests itself in hatred and bitterness toward Emilia and the girl child, Marina. What began as nurturing, cooking food, mutual convenience, dreams unfulfilled—"a marriage" based on market principles—becomes a relationship in atrophy, withered, sick, and dead.

To Hrothgar, the females (wife and child) are not factors in the land tenure system. He feels no responsibility for their well-being, nor does the larger society, including the church, which acts as facilitator for the total and cyclical abuse of the female in this novel.

The female Caribbean fiction writer may be at an observation point at which cultural realities overcome any instinct to label the genesis of the devalued female in Caribbean society. Critics such as Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido point to the Caribbean's cultural history as possible fictional fodder. They record, "There were numerous signs of the conditions of women which were depressing: street insult and verbal and physical beatings from men; women with scores of children who were forced to beg the ‘children's father’ for support at his workplace on pay day before the money was spent; girls of promise getting pregnant and thereafter losing all the brilliance they had previously shown, sinking into a round of baby-making for men who saw sex as recreation and women as conquests; all this crowned by an oral culture which endorsed this behavior" (xiv).

In response to this literary "burden," newer female Caribbean writers are addressing the topic. Pamela Mordecai and Betty Wilson identify a positive response that focuses on the value of ordinary human beings, "the worth of male to female persons and vice versa; the worth of black persons (or other persons of color) to other black persons and to white persons" (Her True-True Name xiii). Although from the perspective of the fictional, white, colonial man, the women were chattel for his comforts and of little emotional significance to him, Emilia was not passive in victim status. She valued herself and her child and became proactive to ensure her daughter's economic well-being. What Ileana Rodriguez found to be true in Teresa de la Parra's Ifigenia applies to Marina's portrayal: "Without money, the future vanishes, for the absence of money is poverty and poverty means ‘complete dependency’ and ‘humiliation and pain’ … happiness, freedom and success are synonyms for money" (62). Also, Rodriguez reports, "Body is capital. The poor, declassé, disinherited and dowryless woman must think in terms of the best use of that capital" (65).

This thinking is manifested in Emilia's own life of total dependency and, naturally, forms the frame of reference for her daughter's future. Emilia's daughter, Marina—spirit child, at once European and African, stereotypically materialistic, sensual and mysterious—marries Antonio de Balboa for his land, despite a curse upon him that causes his three previous wives to perish in childbirth. "Marina's mind clung to just one word that she had heard. Land. de Balboa had land…. ‘How can I meet him?’ Emilia sighed, relieved. ‘It will be arranged,’ she said" (43).

Equally self-centered, Antonio de Balboa, preoccupied with "a will to live, an innate desire to reproduce, a muffled drumming from the world of his African ancestors that told him without logic or understanding that Marina would save him … married the woman" (55). Struck silent by Marina's height and arrogance, her golden hair, grey eyes, almost white skin, "breasts projecting forward ready for an argument, [and] a backside high and rigid," Antonio marries Marina not only because of physical attraction, but "because in the sanctum of his brain where his mind was free from the primitive grappling of the intellect, he knew passionately that this woman would save him" (56).

Proceeding from these motivations, the union of Marina and Antonio is plagued with several conflicts: differences in religion, interferences by mothers-in-law, periodic rejection, problems of self-esteem, problems of class differences, difference of opinions on the purpose and value of land and of heritage, and lack of a unified vision. Although Marina does survive the difficult delivery of her twin children and succeeds in breaking the curse on young de Balboa, her relationship with her husband is merely a physical one. The emotional and psychological distance that separates this couple is enough to lead each of them to the harsh introspection and loneliness attendant to unions founded without love. Marina's constant fear that Antonio's mother will sell the fifteen acres of oil-drenched cocoa land pushes her to torment and taunt her husband about his seemingly incestuous relationship with his mother, his restrictive religion, and worse yet, about his motivation for his marriage to her. Marina fails to see the familial similarities; that like her mother and like her husband, she too is confused about romantic love and the benefits that accrue therefrom. Her major motive for marriage was economics; his, social acceptance.

Antonio de Balboa, the product of a loveless marriage, is twice cursed. His father, an excommunicated Portuguese priest, marries his mother, Virginia, the Black adopted daughter of a white English couple. Distressed at the adoptive father's advances to the regal Virginia, Mrs. Smith, the mother, arranges to give to the ex-priest, de Balboa, a handsome dowry of land if he would marry her adopted daughter and, thus, remove the carnal temptation from her husband's presence. On the following one-sided agreement, the union was made and de Balboa tells Virginia his terms: "I'll not sleep with you as man and wife. I won't share your bed. You may do as you please, I will not have her sell you to me like a lump of coal. I'll have no hand in her slave traffic. Your color offends her. I'll give you the land too. It's your right as her daughter" (60).

Yet the reader realizes that Virginia pays a much higher price to enter this marriage than the dowry her "mother" gave. Her new husband could not keep all his promises. Indeed, on the wedding night, "his stoic detachment oozing swiftly out of his soul," he took her in a "frenzy … as though he had lost every ounce of his rational self, his Christian morality" (61).

This is the story of Antonio's conception and the only sexual encounter between his parents and practically the only connection. Years later, the embittered Virginia realizes that her son, Antonio, has forgiven his father for the twelve years of silence and rejection. She challenges her son, "Tell me what should I have understood. You talked to him. Tell me … tell me, how do you think he intended for us to live? To eat? … I managed. I sold chickens, ducks. I taught school. I managed" (68, 69). It is significant that Virginia focuses on the economics of their existence, not on the emotional and physical needs.

Raised in the darkness and discomfort of his parents' loveless marriage and caught, forever, in his attempt to compensate to his mother for his father's shortcomings, Antonio is overwhelmed by the problems in his own relationship. Cerebral and idealistic, he loses focus, loses control of his life, loses touch with his environment, and learns that good intentions cannot sustain a relationship. When he sets sail for Europe it is not as an adventurer, but as a felon, a loser, a deserter—a man who has failed in his most important ventures in life, a man who tried to establish his sons' economic security through desperate reaction rather than rational proaction. He, a father, a son, a husband, once a respected school principal, must "return," as his father could never do, to Europe, where he will be nothing. His twin sons are left to be raised as he and Marina were raised: fatherless, by a mother who will have to "father" them, despite the fact that a birth father is alive.

Antonio leaves the country, however, with an understanding that could come only from personal experience: "He wished he could tell her [his mother] yes, his father was a he-goat, a ram goat, a hypocritical, self-righteous ram-goat, but he could not. Was it because he too understood how the flesh, the human condition, could so mercilessly remind a man that he is a man, not a god who can control his passion…. Was it that he understood that his father was a man although a priest? Antonio's long weeks of abstinence, self-denial, his refusal to make love to Marina had taught him that the body could betray the mind and desire what the mind had decided it would not choose" (210).

How did Antonio arrive at this position from where he was at the beginning of his union with Marina, when "the heavens saw the son of that Portuguese religious dissenter … make love without restraint or caution as though the very act and the woman he penetrated were all that gave his life meaning?" (121) One answer is found in Edward Kamau Brathwaite's theory of the duality of love. In his musings on developing a Caribbean aesthetic, Brathwaite invented the term "the love axe/l" (186). This concept of love as a central Caribbean driving force, the central emotion that moves life along (self-love included), also embraces the idea that love acts as an axe, a tool that cuts, chops, breaks open, damages, and reveals an inner core, and that may even "draw blood." Romantic love as represented in Nunez-Harrell's novel bears out Brathwaite's musings. At the core of the novel, as well as at the periphery, the plot and subplots, the major and minor characters, are all connected by romantic love (an axel); yet it is romantic love that fails, that goes to a state of atrophy—axed.

In the cases of the three female characters under discussion, the modern feminine perspective is at once dramatized and negated. While the women are left to any means possible for their survival and that of their offspring, they are somewhat unhappily free from restrictive notions of marriage. Davies and Fido observe that the "strength of the [Caribbean] women surely comes from necessity, from being unable to walk away from being left to raise the children" (xv). Mark A. McWatt, also writing of the Caribbean wife and mother, found that "it is a painfully ambiguous role, for it is that towards which the woman generally aspire, and yet, it is the role that most relentlessly traps and diminishes them [sic]" (228).

In her critical evaluation of When Rocks Dance, Leah Creque-Harris observes that "none of the male-female relationships in this book are romantically fulfilling" (163). What was not mentioned is that neither the male nor the female characters seemed disturbed about the romantic atrophy in their lives. The women, however, constantly contemplate the material hardships. The consistent irony on the romantic love axel of the plot is the successful demonstration that each of the partners in a union has experienced sexual fulfillment with the mate, and in Virginia's case, outside the marriage. It seems, then, that there is deliberate effort to show, first, that sexual fulfillment by itself is not sufficient to sustain a marriage or a union. Second, the developments demonstrate that the romantic attraction was not the grounds for these unions; therefore that rubric can hardly be used to evaluate their success or failure. It is the land and its significance upon which these unions were erected, and as the land went so, too, did the "love." Finally, the novel overtly shows the impossibility for romantic love to thrive in the presence of other overwhelming personal, social, and economic problems. The fictional landscape in the individual lives mirrors the larger political and cultural dilemma of the Caribbean, captured well by Antonio Benitez-Rojo when he sets forth the dilemma:

I start from the belief that "Caribbeanness" is a system full of noise and opacity … a chaotic system beyond the total reach of any specific kind of knowledge or interpretation of the world. To my way of thinking, no perspective of human thought … can by itself define the Caribbean's complex sociocultural interplay. We need all of them at the same time…. [I]f … we study the Caribbean by paying attention only to the impact of Afro-Caribbean beliefs upon its social and political structures, we are only looking at one among many of the area's fundamental aspects. Moreover, if we were to study the Caribbean's cultural history only in terms of the clash of two discourses that speak in terms of race, or class, or colonialism, or economic development, we would be also studying dynamics that are fundamental to the system…. [C]onstruction of these polarized models constitutes a reduction that is characteristic of modernity, but it is a reduction that had persisted with uncommon tenacity in the area's histography and its literature.

     (255, 256)

When Rocks Dance gives credence to Benitez-Rojo's theory of chaos and helps to provide reasons for a Caribbean dialectic that ignores established paradigms reserved for more homogeneous societies. Furthermore, the chaos theory provides grounds for Merle Hodge's more pointed conclusions expressed in her landmark essay, "The Shadow of the Whip: A Comment on Male-Female Relations in the Caribbean." Hodge posits that as a residue of slavery and continued colonialism, mutual respect was lost between enslaved men and women and their offspring. The man, unable to provide for his family and take leadership in his affairs, was reduced to the single role of impregnating. The children were/are left to be raised by a female, a mother, grandmother, older sister, aunt, or stranger. "Women became mother and father to the race" (115).

In exploring the complications of romantic love, When Rocks Dance extends itself to include the Indian. The fictional situation supports the thesis that Indians, too, suffered from the cultural mores relevant to gender and class. They, too—brought to the Caribbean as indentured labor, to work on sugar plantations—suffered dislocation of family and other humiliations.

On the fringes of the novel, the ambitious East Indian character, Ranjit, becomes interested in learning to read. For one year, under the private tutelage of schoolteacher Virginia de Balboa, he learns much and falls in love with her vitality. Like the other love unions in the novel, Ranjit's marriage is also in that dreaded state of catastrophe. The narrator summarizes his condition and his wife's: "Indira, Ranjit's wife, bore the pain of gossip well. Her job was to bear children, something she also did well. She never spoke to her husband on any topic other than food, clothing, and shelter…. None of the East Indian women around her thought that their husband's business was any of theirs. The women had their role and the men theirs" (WRD 131). Social practice and the inferiority placed upon Indians in that society had bred such misconception "that the possibility of romantic love between Virginia and Ranjit was not ever a consideration…. A Negro woman and an Indian man just didn't see each other that way" (WRD 131).

Nunez-Harrell breaks the false barrier of interracial love in several directions and, for a brief moment, shows that some of the characters are caught by the "love axe/l." Aware of the atrophy that has set into their lives, they further realize that it is "what they call love" that has died, but not themselves as lovers. Thus, Nunez-Harrell reveals the naked axel of love in atrophy, the naked truth of human beings who are alive yet dead. The narrator provides again a front seat to this scenario, emphasizing at once the emotional neediness and the capacity to find ecstasy that ironically resides in these outwardly "cold" characters. The tension in the plot is heightened by this and other contradictions. Here, the women characters are juxtaposed for emphasis: "Indira didn't count on the longing for something more than a bed partner that festered in her husband's heart. Nor could she know the pain of loneliness that Virginia suffered because she … had no bed partner…. For one short evening, with her husband wandering on the beach … indifferent to his wife's activities, Virginia knew sexual fulfillment…. They [Virginia and Ranjit] clung to each other like lost souls adrift on a raging sea. Unbridled passion, emotions pent up in marriages that they both thought had cooled desire, raged through them…. [S]he too felt the flow, the burning fire, the sweet indescribable pleasure" (131).

Experiencing cold, empty marriages, each of the characters in this novel is portrayed, at least once, as a person fully equipped and capable of enjoying "love" physically. The novelist goes to great pains to disclose possible underlying reasons for the "loveless" situations that exist. These, besides the focus on economics and land, range from Father de Balboa's rejection of his slavery-supporting church, his renunciation and denunciation of that church, to his son Antonio's confusion about his role in life. While the novel depicts women as primary "sufferers"—an important Caribbean term—there is no doubt that Nunez-Harrell attempts to capture the torment of the men, the husbands, thereby attempting to present the entire picture of pain. The axe of love dictates and mothers are left with the children, who, like Antonio and Marina, endure the pain of both their parents, the pain of a burdened, bitter mother, and an "absent," maybe idealized, father. This experience is indelible and the outcome unsure, although there is a suggestion in the novel that the pattern is cyclical.

Dubem Okafor, writing of West Indian and West African fiction, calls for a change to be effected only by a "death" of the old ways: "The quest for a unity of being, for psychic and cultural identity, for social and moral redemption … will avail us nothing, if at the end of the journeys … we are made to begin again because we lack love. It seems that West Africa and the West Indies are bound together by the common fate of the absence of love and the frantic quest for it…. Hence a second death is necessary for a realization of the promise of fulfillment, for the unification of being, complete psychic and social regeneration … divested of all racial and cultural antagonism and polarization" (172).

It seems that Nunez-Harrell has begun to effect that death of which Okafor speaks. By reaffirming and respecting Emilia's African roots and reality, returning the Amerindian to his territory, and returning Antonio to his "father's land" (Europe); by anchoring Marina on land, revitalizing Virginia, and returning her to the farm, the land, and to Ranjit's love; some death/healing is in process. This is not only the psychological unity of the characters' being but also a revitalization of the self brought about by acceptance of the self, love of the self, respect for and by the self and, thus, of others. This rebirth or epiphany achieves what the Caribbean poet/prophet Brathwaite describes as "those who are no longer concerned with colonial despair, with our having ‘nothing,’ our ‘exile’ but with a total roots directed (Emilia) redefinition of ourselves: an aesthetic: word act, vision, value system. The results are still tentative … the race between achievement and chaos is still very much on. But the gate is there, broken but open" (185). The economic factor is de-emphasized. Reconciliation to "having nothing" may be a more healthy basis for romance.

Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell helps to make a track through Brathwaite's "gate." By focusing on the economics of love, its mutations and connections, she performs an autopsy on the dead relationships, not so much in hopes of reviving the dead, but to assist the living. Even from the dust of the marriages discussed, some love arises. It may be the love of self. Deceptively, the Caribbean, a naturally beautiful yet economically impoverished region beset by lingering problems and human misery, remains a port of call for the "Love Boat"—those who are seeking love, those who have it, lost it, found it, or desire it. Each may join in the "kumina," when rocks dance. Frail "eggs" may shatter, but the weak may—like Ranjit and Antonio—survive and join Virginia, Emilia, and Marina. They may grow strong from the exercise of love. They may find their own steps and rhythm in the dance; they may hear the music through their experiences; and, most important, they will know that there is no score, no stage directions, no ringmaster save themselves. Like the fire and ice of love, the axe and axe/l of love, the dance must end if another is to begin. And each dancer must take his or her own step to and with the partner, regardless of the setting, be it ballroom or backyard bacchanal.

The symbolism inherent in the title of the novel can then be interpreted on yet another level to mean that continuous breaking of eggs will reduce the ability to provide new life. After all, a rock is tough, but it is lifeless. The dance polishes the rocks, smooths them, refines them externally, but leaves them encrusted with lost life elements, old possibilities resting upon sharp-edged broken shells. The ideal outcome is to soften rocks and harden eggshells, to reevaluate the attempt to decode natural love by economic laws.

In his commentary on the background of the West Indian novel, Kenneth Ramchand makes the following prescriptive observation: "Instead of creating characters whose positioning on one side or other of the region's historical conflicts consolidates those conflicts and does violence to the make-up of ‘the person,’ the West Indian novelist should set out to visualize a fulfillment, a reconciliation in the person and throughout society, of the parts of a heritage of broken cultures…. This vision and a conception of wider possibilities and relationships still remains [sic] unfulfilled today in the Caribbean" (10). When Rocks Dance takes up Ramchand's old gauntlet through its treatment of romantic love. After exposing conflicting motivations and stormy violence in several relationships founded upon materialism, the novel, through subtle moral decoding, settles some storms and attempts to effect reconciliations. And it does so not so much with mates, but with the self, where both healing and fulfillment begin, as all the characters learn.

Works Cited

Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. "The Love Axe/l: Developing a Caribbean Aesthetic." Bim (June 1978): 186.

Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. "The Polyrhythmic Paradigm: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Era." Race, Discourse, and the Origins of the Americas. Ed. Vera L. Hyatt and Rex Nettleford. Washington, D.C., and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995. 255-67.

Creque-Harris, Leah. "When Rocks Dance: An Evaluation." Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference. Ed. Selwyn R. Cudjoe. Wellesley: Calaloux Publications, 1990. 159-63.

Davies, Carole Boyce, and Elaine Savory Fido, eds. Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. Trenton: Africa World Press, 1990.

Hodge, Merle. "The Shadow of the Whip: A Comment On Male-Female Relations in the Caribbean." Is Massa Day Dead: Black Moods in The Caribbean. Ed. Orde Combs. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1974. 111-18.

McWatt, Mark A. "Wives and Other Victims." Davies and Fido. 223-35.

Mordecai, Pamela, and Betty Wilson, eds. Her True-True Name: An Anthology of Women's Writing from the Caribbean. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1990.

Nasta, Susheila, ed. Motherlands: Black Women's Writings from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992.

Nunez-Harrell, Elizabeth. When Rocks Dance. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1986.

Okafor, Dubem. "The Themes of Disintegration and Regeneration in the West Indian and West African Novel." Bim (June 1978): 158-73.

Ramchand, Kenneth. The West Indian Novel and Its Background. Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann, 1983.

Rodriguez, Ileana. House/Garden/Nation: Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Postcolonial Latin American Literatures by Women. Translated by Robert Carr and Ileana Rodriguez. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994.

Sandra Adell (review date winter 2001)

SOURCE: Adell, Sandra. Review of Bruised Hibiscus, by Elizabeth Nuñez. African American Review 35, no. 4 (winter 2001): 679-81.

[In the following favorable assessment of Bruised Hibiscus, Adell presents a brief summary of the novel's story-line, commenting specifically on the author's fictional use of the spirit world—in particular Obeah practices—which the critic states recurs throughout Nunez's novels.]

With the publication of Bruised Hibiscus, Elizabeth Nuñez has greatly enriched the rapidly developing field of African diaspora literature. In this novel Nuñez weaves such a rich and well-crafted tapestry of legend, myth, and history that one cannot help comparing her to Toni Morrison, whose Song of Solomon stands out as a masterpiece among novels of the African diaspora. Set in Trinidad, where Nuñez was born, Bruised Hibiscus tells a story of passion, sexual repression, adultery, class conflict, and murder. The novel's two principal characters, Rosa and Zuela, were, for a brief period during their adolescence, inseparable. But time, circumstances, and social class set them apart as adults until two heinous murders—crimes of passion—and the terror that grips the women of the island in their wake, cause Rosa to transgress the social stratification that separates people along caste, class, and color lines and seek out Zuela as the one person who can help her ease the torment gnawing at her soul.

The novel opens with the grisly discovery, by a fisherman in the village of Otahiti, of the remains of a white woman that have been stuffed in a brown burlap coconut bag and dumped into the sea. The year is 1954. Trinidad is still a British colony and the debilitating effects of British colonialism and exploitation are symbolized by familial relations. Rosa's mother Clara Appleton is left to languish like other wives of British sugar cane planters and overseers while their husbands satisfy their sexual desires with native women and—sometimes—with men. Rosa's husband Cedric lives with the humiliating knowledge that his father committed suicide by walking into the sea and drowning after his British lover broke off their relationship. Cedric also lives with the frustration of always being seen as inferior in the eyes of whites, no matter how well-read and intellectual he proves himself to be. Clara Appleton is the sole exception. Cedric's position as headmaster of the local secondary school makes him a perfect match for Rosa, the youngest of her three daughters, who at age twenty-eight, is considered too old and therefore unsuitable for marriage to an Englishman or white Trinidadian. Despite her racism and class-consciousness, Clara Appleton consents to her daughter's marriage to the son of a black fisherwoman and the East Indian man who worked for her husband in order to keep her own indiscretions from being revealed. Rosa accepts Cedric's proposal purely to satisfy her sexual desires—her middle name is Nymphia—and Cedric marries Rosa out of revenge for his suffering as one of the "Queen's darker subjects."

The discovery of the murdered and mutilated white woman coincides with an abrupt change in Rosa's passion. After three years of marriage, she no longer desires Cedric. As speculation spreads that the woman was murdered because her husband, an East Indian doctor, caught her in flagrante delicto, Cedric becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea that his wife is being unfaithful to him. The news of a second vicious murder—this time of a black woman by two Trinidadian brothers—and Cedric's ever menacing and irrational behavior cause Rosa to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in the impoverished village of Laventille. It is on the hill leading to the Shrine that Rosa encounters Zuela, whose life-script is linked to hers by their shared childhood memory of looking through an hibiscus bush and witnessing the sexual assault of a young brown girl by "a man old enough to be the girl-child's father."

The image of the young girl behind the hibiscus bush is one of several recurring images that contribute to the lyrical, almost incantatory quality of Bruised Hibiscus. They are disturbing images: images of a notorious gangster, Boysie Singh, who the islanders believe murders and cuts out the hearts of young women to rub on the hooves of his racehorses to make them run faster; of two pigs devouring the butchered body of a woman named Melda; of the opium-addicted Chinaman's recurring nightmares of his wife and daughter being slaughtered back in China; of Zuela, not much older than the "girl-child" behind the hibiscus bush, being bargained over by her father and the Chinaman who came to her village in Venezuela "to buy alpagats [sandals] for his store and took her, too." The Chinaman promised Zuela's father that he would treat her like a daughter. Shortly thereafter, he made her his wife. By the time she and Rosa meet on the hill to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Zuela is a worn out, twenty-nine-year-old woman with ten children and a murderous rage against her tyrannical husband boiling inside her, brought on by the news traveling by word of mouth that women are being killed. Zuela is able to act upon her rage and escape a marriage that was a virtual prison. Rosa tries but cannot escape. The forces of evil are much too great, even for Mary Christophe, the ancestral figure/Obeahwoman who tries, but fails, to stem the tide of events that send Rosa to her fate in the sea.

In the "Author's Notes" at the end of the novel, Nuñez lists two murders, one occurring in 1954, the other in the 1960s, and the 1977 Black Power revolution in Trinidad as real events upon which Bruised Hibiscus is loosely based. But these facts are only the framework. A very gifted novelist, Nuñez never falls into mere reportage. She keeps her distance and lets her imagination and beautiful writing prevail. The result is a stunning and often chilling work of fiction that one will find hard to put down or to forget.

Bruised Hibiscus is Nuñez's third novel. She published her first, When Rocks Dance, in 1986. Set in Trinidad near the end of the colonial period, When Rocks Dance is a haunting tale of a beautiful Trinidadian woman's obsession with owning land. It also tells of a society in transition, where religious beliefs, conflicts of class, and intraracial racism play themselves out against a lush natural background that harbors an invisible world of spirits whose presence affects, often with devastating results, the lives of those the spirits claim to protect.

The belief in an invisible world of spirits and in Obeah, a Yoruba-derived religion similar to Haitian Voudun, is a theme that runs throughout Nuñez's fiction. In her second novel, Beyond the Limbo Silence (which won the 1999 Independent Press Award for Multicultural Fiction), Obeah is embodied in Courtney, one of three young women from the Caribbean who earn scholarships to a small Catholic college in rural Wisconsin as an experiment in integration. Told from the first-person perspective of Sara Edgehill and based loosely on Nuñez's own experiences as a college student in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1963, Nuñez exposes the hypocrisy of white integrationist sponsors of black students. She also plays out a drama of cultural differences between blacks from the Caribbean environment and African Americans through the relationship between Sara and Sam, a young black man from Milwaukee. When Sara becomes deeply depressed, first over Sam's departure to Mississippi to join the voters rights campaign, and later over her pregnancy, it is Courtney, transmogrified into an Obeahwoman, who induces the dream state that reconnects Sara to Africa and Trinidad and the myths of sea cows and mermaids that regularly invaded her imagination when she was a child.

It is evident from her novels that Elizabeth Nuñez's imagination is likewise a storehouse of stories, legends, and myths. She is an accomplished writer who is creating a memorable space for herself in African diaspora literature. She is one of those rare novelists who must be read.

FURTHER READING

Criticism

Nunez, Elizabeth, and Barbara Lewis. "Negotiating Multiple Worlds: A Public Interview with Elizabeth Nunez." Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire (summer-fall 2002): 202-13.

In an interview conducted in April 2002, Nunez discusses her novels, particularly Discretion and Beyond the Limbo Silence; offers insight into her writing process and her thematic concerns; and expounds on the topics of marriage and technology.

Rahming, Melvin B. "Theorizing Spirit: The Critical Challenge of Elizabeth Nunez's When Rocks Dance and Beyond the Limbo Silence." Studies in the Literary Imagination 37, no. 2 (fall 2004): 1-19.

Describes a "spirit-centered" approach to literary criticism and emphasizes its importance when discussing such works as When Rocks Dance and Beyond the Limbo Silence—novels that center on spiritual matters.

Tejani, Bahadur. "When Rocks Dance: Historical Vision in Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell's First Novel." World Literature Today 68, no. 1 (winter 1994): 53-58.

Detailed overview of When Rocks Dance in which the critic praises "the fact that it provides Trinidadians with a cultural synthesis which is operative today and which includes elements of the traditions of the island's three major groups."

Additional coverage of Nunez's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 223; and Literature Resource Center.