Our Favourite Reads: Chandra Smellie on 'The Painted Canoe' by Anthony Winkler - The National Library of Jamaica

Our Favourite Reads: Chandra Smellie on ‘The Painted Canoe’ by Anthony Winkler

We are very pleased and excited to announce that Anthony Winkler’s personal archives have been added to the collection of the National Library of Jamaica.

The official unveiling event will take place on Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 3:00 p.m at at the National Library of Jamaica at 12 East Street, Kingston.



Anthony Winkler (1942-2015) was a celebrated Jamaican writer, known for his irreverent and ‘out of order’ take on serious matters. His well-known novels include The Duppy, as well as The Lunatic and The Annihilation of Fish which were both made into movies; the latter starring Hollywood actor, James Earl Jones and British actress, Lynn Redgrave.  Winkler was also a playwright and poet, though much of his poetry remains unpublished. Winkler received both a silver and gold Musgrave Medal in 2004 and 2014, respectively, for his contribution to literature.

Despite his having lived in the US for the majority of his adult life, Winkler maintained an unbreakable connection to his homeland. In his memoir, Going Home to Teach, he reflects on America as “nothing more than a place where I worked. My home was Jamaica and my heart longed to return there.”

With the acquisition of his archives (including personal papers, correspondence and unpublished manuscripts) by the National Library of Jamaica, Winkler is indeed ‘home at last’.


Today on the blog, library assistant in the NLJ’s Department of Research and Information, Chandra Smellie, shares her views on her favourite read – Winkler’s The Painted Canoe.


I had already read The Life of Pi (which is a splendid book) and have some knowledge about The Old Man and the Sea, so I thought this book would have been a boring read; what could the writer possibly say to grab me when all around is just blue sky and water? Even more so after I had already read two other such similar books?

Winkler did so from the first few sentences, “His name is Zachariah Pelsie. He is unspeakable ugly.” I laughed; immediately I wanted to know what about the character was ugly. I wanted to know more about him. In The Life of Pi and The Painted Canoe both had their nemeses: Richard Parker (Bengal tiger) and the hyena in the former and the hammerhead shark in the latter. Each protagonist’s survival technique was, however, different and I immediately identified with Zachariah’s technique, “ole negar hard fi dead.” I was entertained by ghosts of dead dog, shark, fish and his mother who spoke refreshing patois when they appeared as apparitions. He cussed Jamaican, “yu r**s yu”. I laughed and laughed some more, was rooting for the ugly fisherman and was cross at the amount of ‘crassis’ he had to face – as if life was not hard enough.  I also really wanted him to live. Dirt poor, hard life and ugly as he was, I wanted him to live.

I cannot relate to the life of a fisherman or a time period that precedes me, however, I can relate to the patois language and the temerity of someone who refuses to give up or simply give in.

I would recommend this book to any discerning reader, any bookworm, and any collector, as it is well-written. I love the book because of Zachariah Pelsie, I like that he was not a ‘learnt’ individual and that he was ugly; that is, far from perfect. I feel honored to have been privy to his story.


Chandra Smellie is a bookworm, blogger and mini-backpacker. As a library assistant in the Research and Information Department of the National Library of Jamaica, a typical day for her includes manning the circulation desk, shelving library materials, and assisting users of the library.

Check out Chandra’s blog about her travels around Jamaica.