A powerful picture of colonial life
In his books Frank Martinus Arion tries to provide readers with ‘critical knowledge about reality’, while at the same time getting them ‘so immersed in the book that they forget about the food they have cooking on the stove’. By these standards, Double Play (1973) is a resounding success.
It is a hot Sunday afternoon in the village of Wakota on Curaçao, the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles. Four men are seated under the tamarind tree, playing dominoes: Booboo Fiel, taxi driver and layabout; Manchi Sanantonio, bailiff and owner of the biggest house in Wakota; Chamon Nicolas, convicted murderer with a secret fortune (no one may know that he owns several houses) and Janchi Pau, independent idealist. They play dominoes every Sunday, but this particular Sunday is different.
There is trouble brewing. Booboo and Manchi lose one game after another. Booboo’s thoughts wander back to the night he spent at the al-fresco brothel of Campo Alegre and Manchi can’t get his partner to keep his mind on the game. Unlike other Sundays nobody’s telling juicy stories, instead all the talk is of politics. ‘Things are getting too heavy for a game of dominoes among friends,’ Booboo complains. But are they still friends? Janchi and Chamon are playing as if their lives depend on the outcome of the game. Driven by his love for Solema – Manchi’s wife – Janchi has set his sights on winning. As always, the men play until dusk. The stage is set for an unprecedented defeat, a double defeat.
In addition to the four men with their four different views of Curaçaoan society, Solema and her friend Nora also play an important role in the story. Of them all, Solema is the progressive thinker: the people of Curaçao have to produce more themselves; they need to take control of their own lives. It’s no coincidence that she winds up as one of the book’s winners.
Meanwhile tension and intrigue affect them all in this taut and ambitious tragicomedy of a novel.