Tip Marugg - A man drinks and awaits the coming dawn with his dogs, thinking he might well commit suicide in “the roar of morning.” While contemplating his possible end, the events of his life on Curaçao and on mainland Venezuela come rushing back to him


Tip Marugg, The Roar of Morning, Trans. by Paul Vincent,  Yale University Press, 2015.


“Tip” Marugg’s The Roar of Morning has been widely praised as an intensely personal, often dreamlike literary masterpiece that balances Caribbean mysticism with the magical realism of Latin American fiction while reflecting the Calvinist sensibilities of the region’s Dutch colonial past.
 The story begins on a tropical Antilles night. A man drinks and awaits the coming dawn with his dogs, thinking he might well commit suicide in “the roar of morning.” While contemplating his possible end, the events of his life on Curaçao and on mainland Venezuela come rushing back to him. Some memories are recent, others distant; all are tormented by the politics of a colonialist “gone native.” He recalls sickness and sexual awakening as well as personal encounters with the extraordinary and unexplained. As the day breaks, he has an apocalyptic vision of a great fire engulfing the entire South American continent. The countdown to Armageddon has begun, in a brilliantly dissolute narrative akin to Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano and the writings of Charles Bukowski.


‘Every detail, every digression is purposeful, the subject matter significant, the style perfect. I would like to quote as much of this novel as I possibly can, to read it over and over again right away. Such a novel deserves a magnificent reception.’ - Vrij Nederland          


The final chapter brings an uncommon climax; the hallucinatory, apocalyptic images in which Marugg describes the swelling roar of the morning are breathtaking – I would describe this, without hesitation, as one of the most gripping chapters in all Dutch literature. - De Groene Amsterdammer


Tip Marugg was the hermit of Curaçao, an island in the Netherlands Antilles, and the author of a small body of excep­tionally fine literary work. His novels show the touch of a master stylist who transforms his themes – death, night, the grim fate of the alcoholic, and loneliness – into unparalleled literature.
In Weekend Pilgrimage *(1957) the first- person narrator veers in his car on to the road’s shoulder while drunk and reflects back on his life in one long interior monologue. The protagonist of *In de straten van Tepalka (In the Streets of Tepalka, 1967) relives his experiences in fantasies and nightmares as he lies on his deathbed in a hospital.
In Marugg’s most important novel, The Roar of Morning (1988), a man sits on his doorstep, armed with a bottle of whisky, waiting for daybreak. He observes nature, thinking about Kierkegaard, his childhood in Venezuela, and his life on Curaçao, where he feels out of place as a white Antillean, and he has feverish dreams about women. The novel contains one of the most beautiful scenes in world literature, in which the narrator watches scores of birds in flight crashing into a steep rock face and dying, a daily event. The passage is unforgettable. - www.letterenfonds.nl/en/book/872/the-roar-of-morning


Marugg’s febrile novella, translated from the Dutch and set on Curaçao, is narrated by an aged poet who vacillates between coolly cynical reflections on island life and incandescent visions of apocalypse. The reclusive, suicidal narrator stays up late into the night drinking whiskey and beer, “Scottish and Dutch derivatives of barley,” while waiting for the dawn, which he has always associated with death. Stimulated by the alcohol, he spills forth memories from his youth, lurid reveries from a past bout of “moon wind fever,” and wonderful ethnographic descriptions, including one in which the women on mainland Venezuela ritualistically settle their arguments by donning special red dresses and publicly defaming each other. The narrator’s reflections culminate in a spectacular finale that conflates his own dissolution with the fiery end of the world. Throughout the nightlong monologue, there are sentences of compressed poetic power, as when he describes the “absurd spectacle” of birds flying deliberately to their death against a cliff face: “Birds die in the blue of morning.” However, there are also moments in which Marugg succumbs to stylistic excess: “the primeval sun... stores the gamut of human experience in its fiery womb which, filled to the brim, boils, splits and expels the charred excess in a blinding orgasm...” Then again, perhaps overheated prose is best suited to describe the murderous sun that will greet Marugg’s world-weary narrator at daybreak. - Publishers Weekly


There are good reasons to let one’s thoughts drift towards the apocalypse, whether you read about the reemergence of millenarian religious sects or learn about another new, discernable effect of climate change. In the biblical sense the apocalypse signals an end to historical time, the time of man, and the destruction of his world. However, as the Greek apokálypsis suggests, with its literal meaning of “uncovering” or “unveiling,” this end point brings with it the revelation of some heretofore unknown or unknowable truth. In the fusion of Greek and Christian thought this newfound knowledge has a redemptive aspect, an end to the old order and the initiation of a new, more perfect regime.
There are apocalyptic thoughts born of anxiety, which I would suggest best characterize our contemporary moment, and those that are born out of insight, which as Martin Munro reminds us in his recent Tropical Apocalypse, have been part of the Caribbean mentality for some time now. Whether it be the recurrent impact of hurricanes, the devastation wrought by earthquakes (such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, almost inconceivable in its destruction of the basic infrastructure of everyday life), or the effects of colonialism and slavery that ripple through the present, apocalyptic narratives have constituted a special sub-genre in Caribbean literature and oral traditions. The Caribbean apocalyptic narrative, Munro writes, “is generated as it were from the inside, as a means of understanding (and surviving) the particular movements of history that have created the disasters of the present.”
Tip Marugg’s The Roar of Morning, recently published in translation by Yale University Press’ Margellos World Republic of Letters series, is a strange entrant into this field. Marugg’s apocalypse was bound to be a little different though. As Paul Vincent tells us in his helpful afterword, Marugg was born in 1923 to a line of Swiss Protestants who had been in the Dutch Antilles since 1804. After a stint in the military he worked in the public relations department of Shell, retiring in 1970 and living out the rest of his life in relative solitude until his death in 2006. He wrote works of poetry and three novels in Dutch, as well as scattered works in his native Papiamento (including a dictionary of erotic terms). Marugg is white, writing not in Spanish, French, or English, but the less common colonial tongue of Dutch, and forged perhaps less in the revolutionary spirit of neighboring islands but in the relative comforts of a white collar career, Marugg is not a typical Caribbean voice.
The nameless narrator of The Roar of Morning, white, solitary, and retired like Marugg, dispenses with these prejudices that may place him in a position exterior to a Caribbean sensibility early on in the novel. “It is not the Jew but Caribbean Man who is the most tragic figure on earth,” he relates in his pre-dawn, drunken meditation. “His destination is not Auschwitz but Disney World. He lives in hiding, even though the colonial occupation ended long ago. He suffers from night blindness and cures himself by spending the whole day in the sun. His life, a feast of laughing and dancing, is actually a lament, intoned to the sound of calypso, reggae or merengue: his mistrust is fed by skepticism about the likelihood of happy endings . . . The white man isn’t white and the black man isn’t black; both are aliens in this land where their umbilical cords are buried.” Marugg’s narrator, mellowed by a mixture of lager and whiskey, takes us through these complicated points of distance and identification over the course of a single night. He has reached a state of stoicism, inner peace, whatever you’d like to call it, and is able to draw on a reserve of judgment or emotion that gives voice to the world-weariness and occasional will-to-destruction of Caribbean Man.
The plotting of The Roar of Morning is very simple. “I try to recall the history of everything that guides and influences me; whatever it is that persuades me to sit on my terrace at two in the morning and drink my life away,” we are told. Ultimately this does not add up to much, or at least nothing that would help us diagnose or pathologize the malaise of the narrator. Sure there are failed relationships, dizzy spells that overtake the narrator during his early witnessing of religious communion and sexuality, and tragedies in those around him that would make one guarded against investing too much in the world. But the individual and collective undoing that hangs over the narrative (there is a revolver that sits by the narrator’s bedside that, in good Chekhovian spirit, will be used by the end of the book) gets built through observation, of his people, their land, and not seeds in the narrator’s past.
It is this accumulation of ethnographic and natural images that makes The Roar of Morning such an interesting work of apocalyptic fiction. Marugg’s Curacao and neighboring Venezuela are painted with great care and are full of suggestiveness, of a richly patterned social world and haunting landscape. There is a beautiful tension between activity and repose that builds throughout the novel. An early chapter begins with the line “Birds die in the blue of morning.” The narrator goes on to describe a trip he often takes to the coastal mountains to see birds dive towards a sheer cliff face and then bank sharply upwards at the last second. Each time this occurs three or four continue on towards the cliff “and are dashed to pieces against it.” This kind of image, like the others, is not tinged with bitterness or morbidity, but an equanimity that characterizes the whole book.
The narrator describes a mysterious, disfiguring and often-deadly fever attached to a most likely apocryphal saint that comes with the “moon wind.” He speaks of youthful years spent with his uncle in Venezuela, where he met a “thin man with dead eyes” and felt the immense power of communion outside of language. While in the countryside, riding out a workers’ strike in the city, he witnesses an impromptu and to his religious uncle ridiculous game of pub trivia that blends folk medicine, biblical knowledge, and biology. He hears of a local custom, “a very special way of settling disputes between neighbors,” where women mobilize youths to spread slander. Once the clash becomes sufficiently heated, sides are drawn on opposite banks of the river and mud balls are hurled back and forth at the disputants. “Sometimes, when it got late, stones and slivers of glass were put in the mud balls, and if one of these nonstandard models hit the mark, the supporters of the injured person would rush across the bridge and there would be a general free-for-all. At this point the men would get involved and the part would end in a knife fight.”
He also describes how the “low hills opposite me descend in serried ranks towards the coast,” or how he loves “the hushed quality of the island when nature has fallen asleep, a few hours after midnight when the immobility of darkness prevails. The leaves hang motionless from the trees like tired eyelids.” We begin to accept these descriptions without that nagging interest in characterization. “As usual,” the narrator admits just before the apocalyptic conclusion of the novel, “every attempt to understand myself fails, every yearning for God is punished.” In this sense The Roar of Morning is quite anti-climactic — in a digressive and descriptive mode it falls well short of self-knowledge or it fails to intimate truths, those buried umbilical cords, that an apocalyptic event is waiting to disinter.
Nonetheless, the dazzling, quite climactic final chapter seems completely appropriate. As the morning approaches, the narrator juxtaposes his final attempts at understanding with an encompassing, minute-by-minute vision of South America and the Caribbean’s end — “At 2:48 am God embraces the continent with his gigantic arms; with one hand on the Atlantic east coast and the other on the Pacific west coast, he squeezes with all the fearsome geological strength at his command. The continent creaks from top to bottom.” By 3:00 it is all finished. “The vast land is empty and lifeless; only in the deepest recesses of a gigantic ice floe that drips up from the Antarctic is there a faintly throbbing, slimy mass, from which one day an amorphous, translucent creature will be born.”
Martin Munro relates a Haitian proverb at the beginning of Tropical Apocalypse: “Nou mouri déjà, nous pas pé santi — we are already dead, we don’t fear the odor of death.” Marugg’s narrator certainly lacks fear, but also lacks the expectation that revelation will occur at his death. In most Caribbean apocalypse narratives the undoing of the world works allegorically, to say through art what is unable to be said through politics — that endemic poverty, corruption, violence, and exploitation can only end in some epic negation, of slavery and colonialism’s origins or of an interminable string of catastrophes. The spread of Protestantism in the region can in large part be attributed to its attempts to imbue this eschatology with a sense of redemption, and in this sense Marugg is clearly working in defiance of his own background. Like “Caribbean Man” his apocalypse is negative, but unlike others in the genre his destruction of the world is not colored with bitterness or despair; it simply remains on the narrator’s horizon, another detail of his world to be described and in no larger narrative context, with no bridge between the personal and historical. An anti-climactic novel of the apocalypse is a strange entrant into Caribbean Apocalyptic literature indeed. - Michael Schapira




The Roar of Morning is an intense short novel, its nameless narrator drinking and musing late one night, from 1:30 in the morning until about 3:00, towards what by then seems an inescapable conclusion, a final dissolution.
       The narrator lives in relative isolation on his (and the author's) native island of Curaçao. He admits that he's accused of "being a recluse", that he has: "removed myself from all contact with the world in this sparsely populated western part of the island, not even allowing a telephone in my hermitage" -- but, as he amusingly suggests:

(M)y lair can't be that hard to find, because I get more visitors than I would like. 
       At this hour he's largely on his own however, with his thoughts and dog ("loyal bitch Fonda") at his feet, and bottles of whisky and beer at hand. He seem to be able to hold his liquor, not drinking himself blind-drunk, but he certainly appreciates the effects of the alcohol:
An adult can never become free again -- he can never shake off the impure things that have attached themselves to his life with their suckers. There is no way back. But I drink, and in my brief intoxication alow myself to be carried back to a period when my life was not yet withered. 
       He shares some memories, from as recently as earlier that day to as far back as his childhood. He recalls some twenty months spent as a schoolboy in nearby Venezuela -- so close its visible from where he now lives when the air is clear --, a time when he: "learned to love solitude and books", and recalls a few events that made a strong impression on him.
       The present weighs heavily, too, and he keenly observes it, his reverie tinged by a quiet melancholy, yet also with a sharp, even cynical edge coming to the fore at times. He doesn't sound entirely resigned, but there's that, too. This isn't just any night, it is a special night: 

     There has never been a night so perfect for undergoing a cleansing baptism. Or for dying. 
       He recounts both the mundane and the spectacular. The explosion of a star that happened 170,000 years ago is visible with the naked eye, he heard on the news that afternoon -- but he's just as aware of the neon lighting on the houses all along the road.
       He mentions his nightly routine early on, including that:

The last item on my daily schedule is to take the pistol out of its hiding place in the wardrobe and place it on the table to the right of my bed.  
       He doesn't explain whether he does so for protection or there's another reason, but it's not hard to guess that Chekhov's gun-principle applies .....
       Marugg intentionally overwrites -- but generally to good effect, and especially in the final chapter: culmination here is beautifully presented, beginning with the chapter's opening words: 

     The days and years have all been lived and have crumbled to dust. I am cocooned by the final night, uncertain of what heavenly bliss and hellish pains lie on the horizon. 
       The cocks will begin to crow at the 3:00 AM daybreak, and the final chapter is, in part, a countdown to that. As the time ticks down he imagines the entire South American continent consumed by a massive conflagration, spectacular end-of-days scenes that alternate with recollections from the past as the story builds to its necessary, terrible conclusion.
       The Roar of Morning is a dark little novel, and a powerful short personal testament, inexorably moving towards a conclusion that, even as one can see it coming, manages to shock. A fine work. - M.A.Orthofer



Excerpt:

With fading recognition I look at the familiar things around me: the wardrobe full of clothes, most of which I have never worn; the big curtain over the window, lined with thick material to keep out the light when I sleep all morning; the small, colourful vase that I have been looking at for twenty years and which every Wednesday I am afraid the cleaning woman will smash, as she has done with most of the glassware; the orange rug next to my bed, on which I sometimes let one of the dogs spend the night when it is ill or sad. The feeling of oneness with these things has vanished – it is as if they already belong to others. I light a cigarette. The smoke I exhale is sucked up to the ceiling by the air conditioning and then snakes lazily back down the wall. Outside I can hear the crowing of the cocks. The roar of morning is here once more and is not to be trusted.

Tip Marugg (1923–2006) was born in Willemstad, Curaçao, and wrote two earlier novels in Dutch: Weekendpelgrimage (Weekend Pilgrimage) and In de Straten van Tepalka. Paul Vincent has translated a wide variety of poetry, nonfiction and fiction from Dutch. In 2012 he was awarded the Vondel Translation Prize for his version of Louis Paul Boon’s My Little War.

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