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Literature / Black Midas

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Black Midas is a novel by Guyanese author Jan Carew, first published in 1969 by Longman Company Ltd.

Aron "Shark" Smart, orphaned at a young age, has worked with a number of road gangs, helping to construct roadways, for most of his childhood. One day, while out on the job, he happens to meet his gang's overseer, a white man named Beauchamp, who has a connection to his Disappeared Dad, the legendary "Gold King" Joe Smart. On being told that Aron is Joe Smart's son, Beauchamp proceeds to finance the boy's education, allowing Aron to get a pharmaceutical apprenticeship.

Not satisfied with this, however, Aron makes his way to the diamond mines where his father once worked, and from there he becomes a "pork-knocker" (the local term for gold and diamond prospectors). As he does this, he soon learns that the life of a pork-knocker is not an easy one, and that if not careful a man can lose an entire fortune as quickly as he gains it. Through a series of events from his time in the diamond mines to when he strives to be a big name in the city, Aron is forced to come face-to-face with his own inner conflicts and how his choices have impacted himself and those with whom he has interacted.


Black Midas was Carew's first novel.

Tropes present in this work include:

  • Arranged Marriage: The Rams. Mrs. Ram contends that her husband was forced on her by her family, and she's regretted it ever since.
  • The Atoner: Beauchamp's reason for helping Aron once he learns of the young man's parentage. He had neglected to warn Joe Smart and their workers of the danger of prospecting too near to an underground creek bed, resulting in the men's deaths by drowning. The guilt drove Beauchamp to madness, although he managed to donate much of his fortune to charity, and part of his life savings to Aron, as penance.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Aron's desire is to escape his native village of Mahaica. He eventually manages to do this, but only after his grandparents' deaths.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: James Wellington.
    But for James Wellington, some of the fights would have ended fatally, for although he drank heavily he never got drunk. There was a savage calm about him when he parted a fight. He moved in swiftly, tore the contestants apart, and if they were foolish enough to turn on him, he knocked them down with short, perfectly timed punches.
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  • Big Brother Mentor: Bullah becomes this for Aron.
  • Big Fancy House: After Aron moves to the city, he buys and lives in a large house that once belonged to a white Englishman.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Near the very end of the novel, Aron is forced to give up prospecting after a gold mine caves in on him, resulting in him losing a leg.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In Chapter 1, Aron mentions Braveboy, Tanta Moore's son, who walked 20 miles from Mahaica to the city and never returned. He later shows up in Chapter 19 as George Kendall, who introduces Aron to high-society life and later cons him into bankruptcy.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Despite Richard easily overpowering him during their fight in Chapter 1, Aron manages to break out of a choke-hold by biting him. He also goes for Richard's throat during the scuffle.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Part of why pork-knockers who strike it rich tend to lose their fortunes just as quickly; they spend their wealth on all manner of things to show off that they are rich, and they make poor financial decisions that result in them going back to the mines after a time.
  • Cool Car: Aron gets one, to show off his wealth.
  • Death by Childbirth: Beauchamp's letter to Aron reveals that his own young wife in England died this way, while he was prospecting in Guyana with "Gold King" Smart.
  • Disappeared Dad: Aside from Joe Smart himself having been this for Aron, many of the pork-knockers Aron meets are this as well, and it's noted to be a common occurrence.
    Many of them had families on the coast, but the forest had its own codes, made its own demands, and for a pork-knocker to abandon wife and children, relatives close or distant, was as ordinary an occurrence as eating or sleeping.
  • Driven to Suicide: Santos, following his bout of madness.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Santos, as established in Chapter 4.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Or a tree, in James Wellington's case.
  • Eaten Alive: Richard gets this done to him by cannibal fish. The fact that he had a freshly-sustained gunshot wound at the time also played a role.
  • Establishing Character Moment: As early as the first chapter, Richard is shown to be a money-grubber who's willing to assault even his own relatives if he's crossed.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The reader can pretty much tell what's going to happen in each chapter just by reading the chapter titles. Examples include Chapter 3, "Shark kills a jaguar," and Chapter 7, "Shark finds out about his father."
  • Eye Scream: A temporary example in Chapter 4; while Aron is out hunting in the swampland surrounding Mahaica, swarms of small green flies get into his eyes and burn him there.
  • The Fashionista: Many pork-knockers who strike it rich are known to dress up as fashionably as possible, sometimes to ridiculous extremes. Aron himself isn't immune to this once he's introduced to high society.
  • A Father to His Men: Bullah.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: As Santos warns Aron in Chapter 7, this is a frequent occurrence among pork-knockers; a man can make a fortune in gold and diamonds one day, and then in a few months he'll have spent off the whole lot and be forced to return to the mines to try again.
  • Foreshadowing: When Brother C. comes to visit Aron in his affluence, he tells Aron a story about three men who went to a mountaintop to bring back various wonders for their villagers to see. In the story, the third man goes to the very top of the mountain, finds snow (which the villagers have never seen before) and takes a handful of it back, but the further he goes, the more the snow melts, so that by the time he gets back home there's nothing left, and some of the villagers question how come he's brought nothing; the story is told to Aron as a veiled warning concerning his riches from prospecting. At the end of the book, Aron is swindled out of his money and into bankruptcy and then is forced to stop prospecting because of a Game-Breaking Injury, and he winds up returning to Mahaica with nothing to show for his experiences.
  • Fun Personified: Santos, and later Aron's driver Pancho.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Santos suffers this after seeing Richard get eaten alive by cannibal fish.
  • Gossipy Hens: How the news about Aron's connection to Beauchamp (through Beauchamp's past connection to Joe Smart) gets passed around Mahaica; Tanta Moore is the most prominent gossipper among Aron's neighbors. Also, Mrs. Ram in Chapter 6.
  • Greed: A recurring theme in the novel is how men can be driven to the worst atrocities, or forget who they used to be and where they are coming from, because of this.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Santos gradually becomes this toward Aron when the latter starts getting success at finding diamonds in their claim.
  • Heroic BSoD: Aron has one, blaming himself harshly when James Wellington dies.
  • Hypocrite: Martha, Mrs. Ram's chief maid, criticizes her boss often, but will chew out the younger maids for agreeing with her.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Mrs. Ram's frequent boasts about herself. It's an act of defiance against the fact that she doesn't have much longer to live.
  • Irony: In spite of Aron's declaration at the start of the story that he'll never return to Mahaica once he leaves and gets rich, he's forced to return there following his Career-Ending Injury with nothing to show for his time as a pork-knocker.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: How George Kendall describes his Socialite friends.
    Kendall: They are full of pseudo-intellectual hot air, the lot of them.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Bullah knocks out two men who have started a fight at his shop, before Aron even realizes just what has happened.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Bullah observes that Aron is too trusting of people, just as his father Joe Smart was. Joe's trusting got him killed, and Aron's trusting leads him to be swindled out of his money.
  • Love Interest: Beryl, for Aron, once he gets into high society.
  • Manly Tears: All the pork-knockers weep during Kirton's wake.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Having become more careless with his chores and spending money wildly, Tonic walks with confidence into the house...and Bullah grabs him, ready to thrash him. Tonic's confidence swiftly vanishes.
    • This is also Aron's reaction to the news that he's been swindled into bankruptcy.
  • Parents Know Their Children: Tanta Moore immediately recognizes her long-lost son Braveboy when she sees him as the lawyer George Kendall, but she doesn't give him away when she picks up that he's ashamed of his past upbringing.
  • Parental Abandonment: Aron's mother left him with his grandparents and went off to Surinam, and his father, "Gold King" Joe Smart, is later revealed to to have died. Also, there's no mention of Tonic's parents, as Bullah tells Aron that he found Tonic living as a stray on the streets.
  • Police Are Useless: Bullah cites this as the reason he's not going to get them involved in retrieving the diamonds after his shop's been robbed, since the police would not be used to the bush, being town-men.
  • The Quiet One: James Wellington and Tonic aren't much for talking.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense
  • Scenery Porn: The jungles get described in great detail.
  • Socialite: George Kendall and his elitist friends, to whom he introduces Aron.
  • Suddenly Sober: In Chapter 12, all the drunken pork-knockers get this way when they learn about fellow pork-knocker Kirton's death.
  • The Stoic: Tonic: Not even the news of Kirton's death moves him.
  • Tap on the Head: Done realistically with Tonic, who gets bashed over the head when Bullah's shop is robbed. Tonic suffers a concussion, and Aron notes that if he hadn't turned his head at the point of impact, his skull would have been cracked open.
  • Uptown Girl: Beryl.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Pancho and the pork-knocker English.
  • Would Harm A Child: In the very first chapter, Aron's Uncle Richard hits him when Aron calls him out for stealing money out of his pay that he earned for that week's work with Richard's road gang.
  • Would Hit a Girl: In the same above-mentioned incident, Richard shoves Aron's grandmother aside when she tries to break up the fight between the two.
  • Younger than They Look: Tonic.
    Tonic was one of those people who is born old.