Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Read Your Way Around the World - Trinidad and Tobago

Read Your War Around the World invites you to Trinidad and Tobago. For such a small country, Trinidad and Tobago has certainly produced more than its share of terrific writers. The majority of the population of these islands are either of African or Indian descent and this diversity is certainly reflected in the islands' literature. Trinidadian writers seem to find a home in Canada. A number of the writers listed here either live or have lived in Canada, not to mention Dionne Brand (M), Neil Bissoondath (M) and Andre Alexis (M).

The White Woman on a Green Bicycle (M) by Monique Roffey shows Trinidad through the eyes of an outsider. British immigrants George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad in 1956. While George immediately falls in love with his new home, Sabine finds herself isolated and in culture shock. In this world the men have their separate business lives and the women raise families amongst other ex-patriots. Sabine sets out to explore the island on her green bicycle making a secret connection with a Trinidadian politician which will have consequences in the years to come. Monique Roffey was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Valmiki's Daughter (M) by Shani Mootoo is a richly detailed family saga set in Trinidad. Sounds, aromas and the heat are made real by the lush and detailed description. Valmiki is Dr. Valmiki Krishna, a well-off family man, a notorious womanizer and a secret homosexual. Daughter Viveka is a lesbian, but in that world there is is no way to discuss their sexuality. Now Canadian, Mootoo was born in Ireland and raised in Trinidad.

In the introduction to Trinidad Noir (M), editor and contributor Lisa Allen-Agostini says not to expect to read this anthology and come away with an understanding of Trinidad. Here you will not see the white beaches and the rum based drinks. In the tradition of noir literature you will see criminals, prostitution and corruption. Eighteen Trinidadian writers tell stories of rape, abduction, sex, drugs and murder with Trinidad's cultural, racial and economic diversity as a backdrop.

A Perfect Pledge (M) by Rabindranath Maharaj is a portrait of rural Trinidad. Narapat and his wife Dulari live with their three daughters and son Jeeves on a sugar cane farm. Narpat is a stern man who lives a moralistic and puritan life, despising his neighbours who have left the land for life in the city or who have turned to rum. Narpat runs for elected office in the time leading up to Trinidad's independence and implements his strongly held beliefs. A touching and amusing story of misplaced beliefs and a struggling father-son relationship.

Carnival (M) by Robert Antoni is based around the most significant public celebration in Trinidad - Carnival which falls before Ash Wednesday. Music, costumes, parades and revelry draw three Trinidadians home. Representing Trinidad's diverse culture are Fletcher, white and wealthy, Laurence, black and once poor though now successful, and Rachel, a creole and the love of Fletcher's life. The three meet up in New York City and decide to return home for Carnival. As the give themselves up to the decadence of Carnival, they find themselves immersed in violence and racial tension.

The Swinging Bridge (M) by Ramabai Espinet tells the story of a Trinidadian family from an emigrant's perspective. Mona Singh faces a crisis when she is summoned to her dying brother in Toronto. The Singh family immigrated to Canada in the 1960's leaving behind memories of torment and family chaos. Her brother asks her to return to Trinidad to complete a deal he had been brokering to buy back family land. Mona must come to terms with her life in Canada, her family's past life in Trinidad, and even further back to the ancestor who originally left India for Trinidad.

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