The story told in The Night of The Rambler is one I practically grew up with: as a child and adolescent, I spent large amounts of time in Anguilla (we’re talking two, three months a year) at Rendezvous Bay Hotel, which in many ways became my home away from home. Jeremiah Gumbs, founder and owner of the hotel, patriarch of the nation, was one of the key figures in the process of legitimization of Anguilla’s claims, once the revolt had escalated to a serious diplomatic crisis. Over the years, hours and hours of conversation with Jerry, a real grandpa figure, made me fully acquainted with the details of a story of action and adventure that would captivate the attention of any child. Many years later, looking to demystify my notion of the revolution, I purchased every text available on the subject, from Donald E. Westlake’s Under an English Heaven to Colville L. Petty’s Anguilla: Where There’s A Will There’s A Way. I am particularly indebted to the latter, because it was while reading it that the structure of The Night of the Rambler became clear to me. From that point forward, it was almost easier to write the novel than to not write it.
However, before the actual novel came the idea of the novel, and that was not necessarily linked to the Anguillian revolution. Growing up in the periphery (Venezuela is the center of the world when compared to Anguilla, but it’s still the periphery), I was always attracted to tales of great accomplishments that were somehow largely ignored by everyone else. This was the case with the epic struggle of independence in South America, which, in my view, made Napoleon’s exploits in Europe seem trivial. Furthermore, we were often asked to learn about distant civilizations to which I could simply not relate (Phoenicians and Greeks, Ostrogoths and Byzantines), but we ignored indigenous civilizations in South America and, even more surprisingly, totally bypassed anything that happened in our immediate surroundings: the history of Colombia, of Ecuador, of Trinidad, or even of Curaçao.
It became increasingly evident to me that, in the periphery, we were so awed by the history of the dominating powers that we focused on what we considered to be important to the world instead of what was relevant to us. To some extent, at least, the sense that our history was inferior—and therefore that we were inferior—was a consequence of our history being shorter, hazier, and often less opulent than that of the colonizing superpowers—including, paradoxically, the USA. Reconciling my appreciation for many of these events—from the war of independence, to the Venezuelan civil war, to the Anguillian revolution—with the total disregard the world had for them became an increasingly urgent need, which also entailed placing these (and ultimately all) stories in an alternative context and a worldlier narrative. For years, I have been retelling histories in revisionist settings that blur the boundaries of reality, challenge the notion of knowledge, and elevate the status of speculation to at least the same level of (another) truth.
Linking this back to The Night of the Rambler, eventually I realized that telling the story of the Anguillian revolution would not be enough: what was required was a full profile of the regional traits and the specific historical sentiment that led to the series of revolts, skirmishes, and revolutions included in the novel—some of them, like the one in Cuba, were very prominent. I have not kept rigorous track of how many episodes are “real” and how many are “invented,” and there is every likelihood at this stage that I might even get one or two wrong. Which is the whole point. We are all shaped by elements that are both imagined and, at the same time, true—and we are all the richer for it.
Published in Akashic’s website on September 3 2013.