Grace, by Elizabeth Nunez.
Grace, by Elizabeth Nunez.
Another early novel by a favorite Caribbean American novelist about a college professor from Trinidad and his African American wife, which raises questions about what responsibility we have for each other and where that responsibility ends.
Akashic Books has published Elizabeth Nunez’s recent books and now they are going back and reissuing her earlier ones, such as Grace, first published in 2003. Raised in Trinidad and now teaching in the USA, Nunez has often raised issues of the differences between blacks from the Caribbean and African Americans, as she does in this book. As always she also takes us inside her characters to tease out their thoughts and feelings. This time, she ponders the thin line between taking too much responsibility for the happiness of others and refusing to admit that we hurt them.
Justin is the narrator and main character of Grace. Originally from Trinidad, he is a well-intentioned and loving man who cares for his African American wife and their daughter and for the students he teaches. He is also unaware of his casual arrogance and gets defensive when his wife feels she needs “space” to explore who she is. Tension erupts when she decides to take her daughter and move in with a friend. Justin refuses to let her go because of their child, but events at his college gradually help him to see the situation in a new light.
Nunez has done a good job at portraying a man and wife struggling with the issues of feminism. We all know men like Justin, unaware of the pain they cause others by their behavior. I was troubled, however, by Nunez’s decision to make a lesbian feminist the villain of the novel, as if feminism was nothing more than greedy and self-serving women. Yes, I have known feminists like this, but I believe it is unfair to label us all with such behavior. In addition, Justin has to deal with his choice to teach traditional classic works rather than works by more diverse authors. In his actual comparison of Greek plays and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, he shows what can be gained by doing both. Again, however, the Afrocentric professor who debates with him is a rather negative character. In some ways, the specific issues being raised seemed a bit dated to me, but the deeper questions of what we owe each other continues to be very relevant. Grace reminds us of the need to be sensitive to our own arrogance while simultaneously cautioning us to remember that we are not responsible for the decisions of others.
I gladly recommend another of Elizabeth Nunez’s novel to a wide range of readers. I liked this book, but her more recent ones are even better. Check out my reviews of them.