Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chavez and the Bones

Came across this- Very interesting!

CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez said Monday that Venezuela should open the coffin of independence hero Simon Bolivar to examine the bones, saying there are sufficient doubts about his death in 1830 to warrant a full investigation.
Although history books maintain Bolivar died of tuberculosis, Chavez said doubts exist because some writings suggest it is possible the South American "Liberator" might have been murdered.
Chavez has raised this theory before, but went further during a speech on the anniversary of Bolivar's death.
"Who knows if they even made Bolivar's bones disappear? We have to determine it now," Chavez said. "We have the moral obligation to dispel this mystery, to open ... this sacred coffin and check the remains."
Chavez said it is possible Bolivar was poisoned, even though according to the traditional history Bolivar spent his last days bedridden and dying. He suggested modern "scientific advancements" — apparently DNA testing — could help determine if the remains entombed in the National Pantheon in Caracas are indeed Bolivar's.
"I swear I will not rest in the search for the real truth," Chavez said, pledging "an investigation with all the resources Venezuela can offer."
Bolivar, who liberated from Spain what is now Venezuela and several other South American countries, is an idol to Chavez and the inspiration of his Bolivarian Revolution movement

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Borrowing to Fight Crime?

IDB approves US$24.5 million loan for citizen security program in Trinidad and Tobago-
I came across this article on

Washington -- March 13, 2008 -- The Inter-American Development Bank announced today the approval of a US$24.5 million loan to Trinidad and Tobago for a citizen security program to reduce crime and violence.
The operation will focus in 22 high crime pilot communities through the financing of preventive interventions addressing the most proximal and modifiable risk factors. The program will include community action, support to the police services and the institutional strengthening of the Ministry of National Security.
“The program will contribute to the decrease in the rate of homicides, robberies and wounding in partner communities and will increase the perception of safety in the partner communities,” said IDB team leader Jorge Lamas. “It will also reduce injuries related to firearms, child maltreatment, domestic violence and youth violence; and increase the collective efficacy to prevent violence”.
The loan is for a 20-year term, with a 6 year grace period at an adjustable interest rate. Local counterpart financing will total US$10.5 million. The Ministry of National Security will carry out the program
Somehow I missed this. Maybe I am cynical but how does this program intend to cover all these very admirable points? Trinidad and Tobago will be stuck paying the interest on this loan and I can wager that there is not going to be much difference in the homicide rate. Why so negative?
Until our basic infrastructure improves- better pay for teachers, more support for the critical NGOs that are battling in the most crime infested areas, and a recognition of the importance of new schools and hospitals, we can borrow millions- the underlying problems will not change.
It's beyond sad, it's tragic.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

No Pain Like This Body

I had not read "No Pain Like This Body" by Harold Sonny Ladoo. With a spanking new cover and an introduction by Dionne Brand, I was happy to sink my teeth into this controversial novel. There was the taint of the author's tragic death which made it even more intriguing.
It was a difficult book to read for more than one reason. I will make my comments in a following post as I wanted to use this one to upload Marina Salandy Brown's excellent presentation on both Ladoo and the book. Of particular interest in her paper is the response from critics such as Victor Questel and Christopher Laird. Did I like the book? Hmmmm. The jury is still out on that one. Do I think it is good literature? I do.
But onto Marina.


By Harold Sonny Ladoo

Reading group 18 Jan 2008

I am pleased, utterly, to have read this book in spite of the fact that it made for very uncomfortable reading. I had to choose between it and Half a Yellow Sun (which I regard highly). One page in, one sentence in, and the decision was made. This is the third significant Caribbean literary discovery for me since we started this reading group - the others being Edwidge Danticat and Anthony Winkler. I found it difficult to tear myself away from it, cursing the interruptions and desperate to get back to it. Except, of course, there is no joy to be had from No Pain Like This Body apart from the joy of observing a putative great writer at work and the delightful shock at the daring starkness of the horror.

Instead of starting with the novel itself, I’d like to start at the beginning - with this, to me and the majority of us, previously unheard of writer, Harold Sonny Ladoo. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why did he write so unrelentingly about domestic violence? He died very young and very brutally - Why? To answer some of those questions I would like to quote extensively from one important source of info about Ladoo, Peter Such.

Such met him in a bus station and befriended him….. “He was huddled in a cheap coat too large for him: black hair, thin dark face, small moustache, large dark eyes staring straight ahead, looking at somewhere else completely.” Such was writer-in-residence at Erindale College in Toronto and he helped Ladoo find his way around the system so that he got a degree. But importantly, he pushed him to find his own voice. Ladoo used to write Victorian style poetry, believe it or not.

Ladoo was born illegitimate in 1945 and was murdered in 1973 – aged 28. He grew up with a family called "Ladoo” in the plantation area of Couva, near the small village of McBean, which is mainly populated by the descendants of indentured labourers. He was educated at a Canadian Church Mission School and had a tattoo of a simple cross on his right breast. He also had a “vicious scar on his throat above his collarbone”, according to Peter Such who became his mentor and friend. Such says, “He told two versions of how he got that, just as there were two versions about the cross, one being that it was done without his knowledge while drunk on shore leave from a merchant ship in Valparaiso. First, he told me the scar was surgical and done because of a childhood disease that nearly killed him. The other was that it was the result of a bloody knife fight. I never knew which to believe, though I learned that he was very sick as a child and nearly died in his teens. He had a long period of convalescence which he spent reading G. A. Henty and mounds of other forgotten Victoriana.” I include that anecdote because it tells us something about the author’s past, his inventions, and provides some context for his literary achievement.

Ladoo migrated to Toronto with his wife in 1968. According to Such, Rachel Singh was a widow five or six years older than Ladoo. Her first husband, and her brother were both murdered about five years before she married Harold and she was left with five children. She and Harold had two sons, babies when Ladoo died. Life was always difficult for them especially when writing became Ladoo’s obsession and he stopped working as a part-time cook, except very occasionally, so he'd have time to write and to complete his degree. And even when his novel was published there was little money from its sale - although it got excellent reviews. Just when he died things, however, had appeared set to improve financially.

Such says: “Those last two years, as his writing obsession grew, Harold trained himself to get along on three or four hours of sleep. To maintain his concentration in the crowded household when he had the idea for a book, he would lock himself in the bedroom and stay up round the clock for two days or more until he had the rough draft completely finished. Then he would call, announce he had written another novel, and collapse, exhausted and exultant. It got so I could always tell when that had happened. At strange hours (three or six a.m.) the phone would ring and he'd say, "Hello, Mr. Such." (A kind of teasing formality used only on this occasion.) "I've just finished another novel." His speech was slurred because of his fatigue and the fact that these were the first words he had spoken to anyone for days.”… Reminds me a bit of how Garcia Marquez wrote 100 Years of Solitude.

Ladoo was published by House of Anansi - where he had originally sent his poetry that had been roundly rejected. Such writes “The whole pile came back with a long letter from Dennis Lee, the publisher, which said "Write about the things you know." Ladoo disappeared shortly thereafter for a week, then turned up at Such’s office carrying a small folder containing only six five-to-ten-page short stories, all written in a few days. Everything else he had ever written had been burned – two suitcases full of them.

He never looked back. Those short stories became the source material for his first novel, published under the title No Pain Like This Body, and not its working title of Yesterdays, which is the title of his second novel published posthumously in 1974.

In the very early 1970s Ladoo’s father died suddenly and he returned to Trinidad. Such says “He loved his father enormously, greatly admired the way he'd kept things together. He wrote me a desperate letter from Trinidad. He thought perhaps he'd give up his writing and Canada, and stay to work his father's small plot and take care of his mother; she had collapsed completely and was hospitalised. There were other family members, including a sister, but all the responsibilities seemed to be on his head, particularly his mother. In a few weeks, though, he was back in TORONTO leaving a whole lot of Trini family confusion behind and continued his obsessive writing until he got news that his mother was destitute, begging on the streets, and he returned home to look after her, and to meet his death.

Dying was obviously not the plan but Such suggests that Ladoo sensed his own demise. He had said of his obsessive writing “I do not have much time.” And when Such saw him off at the airport, Ladoo said “I may never come back.” Apart from sorting out his mother he had been planning apparently “to research facets of the different cultures during the times of slavery and indentured labour for a vast saga like Faulkner's that would cover the events right up to modern times with the immigrants to Canada.” There was also was a book he wanted to do on the war of 1812, and one called House Nigger, about West Indians in Toronto.

There is one episode I want to quote for you as it may shed some light on Ladoo’s death and the violence in this work which, for me, are inseparable . It may also link to the “vicious scar” on his neck. I think although the writer and his work are separate things, it is the philosophy of violence that infuses this novel. .

One night Peter Such gets a call saying Ladoo is in trouble with the police and Such goes to help - “The Erindalian had just published part of his new novel, Rage. (At this time he was writing several novels through and leaving them for revision later while trying to straighten out Yesterdays.) This book was an attempt to get at the sources of the awful rage and violence that were the dark driving forces of much of Trinidad's plantation society. It was a horrible piece about a character being knifed up by his enemies and managing to escape by hiding in the sharp razor grass of a coulee. He'd also been reading Norman Mailer for one of his courses and as I drove to the police station I couldn't stop myself from putting these things together. Had his literary obsession manifested itself in real action, rather like Mailer stabbing his wife purely for existential experience?

“Haltingly he told me the circumstances. He'd been dragged rather unwillingly to a party. Dead tired, and had had a bad time. He had run into arguments and had a couple of drinks On the way home, as his brother-in-law said later, he seemed to grow strange and paranoid. By the time they arrived home he was very agitated. He went downstairs to rest while the others chatted.

“Ten minutes later he came up again (from the basement where he lived with his family) with a bread-knife, speaking incoherently and waving it around. He had cut himself, and his relatives - from what they could understand him saying - were afraid that he was going to kill himself. In the tussle to disarm him he stabbed his brother-in-law twice and cut himself again. When it was all over he fell unconscious. He woke up completely oblivious to what had happened, with the police all around him. He was convinced that someone had put drugs in his drink. (He avoided drugs like the plague.)

“Dr. Elmer and I went to his trial as character witnesses. After hearing the general facts from Harold's brother-in-law; whom the prosecution put on the stand, the judge called both lawyers up to the front and chatted a while. The judge decided the case should proceed no further and remanded Harold until he had been examined by a court psychiatrist. The psychiatrist examined him, pronounced him eminently sane, and kept him for ages talking about literature….. Harold made that kind of impression on people.”

From this account of the author’s life you will see that there is a disturbing parallel between the life and the novel. As if one led to the other or as Such suggests, Ladoo could sense his own death and was drawn back to it. Maybe the writing was a making sense of something he sensed, something that was inevitable given his personal reality?

The Novel

I will confine my remarks to a few precise areas since there are many aspects of the novel for us to discuss and I know some of you disliked the novel – inconstant language, poor transcription of the vernacular, inauthenticity, voyeurism, acquired existentialism, unnecessary and unrelenting violence, smacks of first novel, written for foreigners etc.

I would rate this novel as a classic work of Caribbean writing. It turns the modern notion of a “Caribbean island” (associated with paradise) on its head. It captures the threatening omnipresence of “weather” and its oppressiveness, its harshness, the knowledge that Nature can turn on you, that is never far from MY consciousness and preys on the minds of the family of Tola Trace. But the real oppressor is man.

I agree with reviewers who suggest that Ladoo created another character of Caribbean literature – like the “sagaboy” or “mystic masseur”, or “lonely Londoner”. Pa is the totally recognisable, typically isolated, failed man who cannot live with himself, who drinks himself into a state to unleash his self-hatred on those around him. Is Ladoo like Naipaul in condemning his society with the novel’s supreme bleakness and self-contempt? If he is, the swinging cadence of the language is perfectly and beautifully at odds with the morbidity of the novel. You may not agree since some of you had a problem with the dialogue and its authenticity.

Ladoo sets his masterpiece of social realism in an isolated village separated from urbanisation by a lack of means of communication, roads, transport, electricity, entertainment and culture. The place – to me – is a very recognisable, albeit make-believe Tola Trace in rural Trinidad of 1905. The protagonists are the members of a near-destitute Hindu, indentured family and their community in what feels and smells like the Caroni of my childhood. The storytellers voice is that of a child who relates a series of awful events with a child’s naked baldness and clear vision so that although the child does not really understand what’s going on there are no scales on the child’s eyes. This simple recounting makes for great poignancy.

The novel describes the cruel and hopeless existence of a poor rice-growing family during one rainy season. The action takes place in a very brief time frame and deals with the family’s struggle to cope with Nature’s unrelenting violence, a drunken and angry father, the God’s who betray them and the final loss of body, mind and spirit.

The story is that of the relationship between a family and Nature, the relationship between a man and his wife and their children, and hers with them - Balraj, who is twelve and is the eldest, a girl -Sunaree, Rama (who dies of a scorpion sting but he could also have died of pneumonia) and Panday. They all work in the rice paddy, though they are constantly on the run from Pa. It’s also about their untrusting relationship with one another, of the cruel relationship between the members of a community, of the non-relationship between those individuals and the rest of the world, of the relationship between man and his Gods. All of these brutal and violent, disconnected and unreal. The only successful relationships are the one between Ma’s mother and father and theirs to their Hindu gods.

The author captures the complex ties of family, neighbourhood, of friendship that bind the people of a traditional village society into mutual obligation, intrigue, malicious gossip – mauvais lange, into the publicness of personal events whether it is courtship, marriage, family feuds, entertainment, even private grief. Death provides the opportunity for meddling that makes the funeral of a dead child an important social event so that the family itself becomes part of the wall paper while scandalous and wicked gossip- mongering and backyard talk leaves everybody, pundit, mother and innocent children touched, sullied by the ole’ talk that outs everybody. There is no hiding place, no secrets, no respect, no dignity….. The pomposity and social pretensions of the pundit are given short thrift, the rights of a grieving mother completely negated. In our society no one is privileged against a tongue whipping, a bad talking that’s so thorough that it could drive you mad.

Using painful, shocking and vivid prose, and with extraordinary simplicity and originality, Ladoo creates a world of violation and despair that the human being in the end cannot endure. The big question about this slim book is why is the author’s prose so thoroughly violent and angry? Why does he not spare the reader’s sensibilities? Is he intending to shock or to tell a truth about a pain that has been gnawing away at him and others? Putting it another way - Is the language appropriate for what the author is trying to achieve?

The novel gets off to its certain hateful and wonderfully descriptive start:-

Pa hated Ma and he hated Balraj, so he picked up Ma as if he was picking up a little child and he held her in the air. Ma bawled like a cow hard hard hard. She tried to hold the hog plum tree, but she couldn't meet it. Ma didn't want to go inside the tub; she was turning and twisting as a worm; just turning and twisting and bawling; just bawling and trying to get away. The water in the tub was full of soap suds. Pa held her high and he held her tight as a tree holds another tree. Ma was bawling and getting on, getting on and calling God, but the sky was black and God was watching with his big eyes from heaven; he was not even trying to help Ma a little. Pa turned her over and pushed her face inside the tub; trying hard to drown her. Her feet were high in the air, and her whole body was shaking as a banana leaf shakes when the wind blows.

(Notice how he gets the language absolutely right – the superlative expressed by repeating “hard” 3 times. Notice the unusual similes from Nature – “as a tree holds another tree”, “as a banana leaf shakes when the wind blows”.

The dehumanising of the children and their father is well expressed in this excerpt”-

"Look wot you doin Panday!" Sunaree said.

"I not doin notten. Dis rice could kiss me ass! I is a chile".

"If Pa hear you he go beat you Panday!"

"But I is' a little chile!"

Pa stood on the riceland bank by the doodoose mango tree. He heard Panday. He jumped as a bull on the riceland bank.

"Panday shut you kiss me ass mout boy! Shut it boy! Me Jesus Christ! If you make me come in dat wadder I go kick you till you liver 'bust!" Reading that sentence made me shudder from the cruelty and violence.

In an attempt to show both the two-sided nature of Nature, Ladoo fills the novel with disgusting creepy-crawlies like snakes, rats, worms, ants, spiders and scorpions.

The sky rolled as an endless spider and the rain fell like a shower of poison over Tola. The darknes was thicker than black mud, and the wind howled as evil spirits.

The descriptions of the planting of rice in the paddies are vivid, the need to get it just right so critical to their mean survival.

Sumaree was planting good, but not good enough. Her rows were nto in one straight line….. Panday was not a good planter; he didn’t know how to ram the rice roots under the water and then cover them with mud but he was trying to plant faster than Sunaree. He wasn’t holding the plants carefully; sometimes he squeezed so hard that they broke in the middle just about the water line…. He was afraid; afraid because some of the rice plants he had planted were leaning in the water; others were buried so deep into the mud hat the tops were hidden under the muddy water….. Speed was getting Panday into trouble. He stooped down moved as an old man in the water; but he still couldn’t make a straight line. Sunaree and Panday were tired and hungry; their bellies were full of wind; they were getting sharp pains in their stomachs but they waited for Ma… she too was hungry and tired. When the last faggot was planted Ma came out of the water.


Another question follows from all this – has this author all but disappeared from popular literary memory in T&T because of the terrible story he told and the way he told it? This and my earlier question provoke controversy. It has been suggested that he may have been killed because of his writing. Christopher Laird wrote:

“He does not glorify the East Indian, far from it. It would not be too absurd to suggest Ladoo was killed for what he wrote. If Naipaul can earn the anger of the local community for his snide irony, Ladoo would earn their rage for his own. But Ladoo's own rage stems from his sense of the injustice of indentureship, the poverty and exploitation of his people. His writing comes from a sense of wonder at their resilience, their sense of life, their reverence of God and above all the compassion that seams his world.”

(Christopher Laird)

Many non-Indian middle-class people in west/northern Trinidad do not know and/or aren’t prepared to accept that the conditions under which East Indians worked were very cruel. For me NO PAIN LIKE THIS BODY recounts that reality. When the Indians were brought to this colony as indentured labourers, after the abolition of slavery in 1834, they were subjected to as harsh and even, in some cases, harsher conditions than those of the ex-slaves. The slaves at least represented a capital investment that needed some looking after but the “coolies” had no value other than as cheap labour and were expendable. According to Dr. Eric Williams in Inward Hunger, they earned a wage of 25 cents in 1911. (Pg 19-21). Their plight was miserable. They belonged to the “wretched of the Earth”.

Indentureship was a cruel system introduced against the advice of some people here including Robert Guppy, grandfather of Yseult Bridges who wrote Child of the Tropics.(pg 82-83).

But the educated elite was not interested in the fact that the system would create social and economic problems in the future, they were determined to continue to be sugar growers even though cane’s supremacy was already being challenged by beet in the international market. They remained slave owners in all but name. (CHILD of the Tropics) pg91-92.

Indentureship created an ill-paid, abused labour army that undercut the wage levels of the non-agricultural working class groups. The social effects were monstrous because it engendered deep racial animosity borne of misunderstanding between the black man and the Indian, which still prevails and defines our politics. It is in this historical context that we must examine this work.

Information on Ladoo is scarce. I found only two reviews, one by deceased Dr. Victor Questel, which I now quote from.

“Ladoo's first novel NO PAIN, adds a new dimension to the West Indian novel. It is the kind of dimension that complements Michael Anthony's exploration of the world of the child and the adolescent as seen in THE YEAR IN SAN FERNANDO, GREEN DAYS BY THE RIVER. NO PAIN is also very instructive for any reader coming from a sitting with a novel like Shiva Naipaul's THE CHIP-CHIP GATHERERS. NO PAIN explores a fragment of the world of the Trinidadian East Indian which has not been previously done. Selvon has skirted around the area but never really got into it. I am referring to life for the first and second generation Trinidadian East Indian practising subsistence farming here, while their gods fall around them and the middle-aged and the young move around without meaningful points of reference and standards. Ladoo shows us that such a world is really a world of anarchy in which one has three choices; patient suffering or madness or an early death.”

Questel describes Pa as “the most violent father in West Indian fiction… He is the one who beats up each member of his family. He is the one indirectly responsible for Rama's death and Ma's madness. In fact Pa can be seen as the reverse side to the indifferent invisible God in the sky. Pa is a snake, the agent of evil, a devil figure; a directionless individual on a violent rampage of violence. Thus, if God is presented as the indifferent agent of destruction, then Pa is presented as his opposite number on earth.

“As things get progressively worse Panday asks

"Wot God doin now?"... "He watchin’ from de sky". "God still watchin"

"Well God playing de ass now"!

“This feeling that those in authority do not care, but are simply "playing de ass" runs throughout the novel. Each member of the family looks upon the other with suspicion and with the feeling that he or she is both exaggerating his or her pain or irritability. Thus, when Ma is drunk during the wake for Rama, her child, Panday, says:

"Ma you drink rum and playing in you ass!" Ma was getting on bawling and swearing and getting on. Pa came inside the kitchen. "Keep dat bitch quiet!"

"But she chile dead", Soomintra the wife of Sankar said.

"Yeh. De chile dead, but she eh have to get on like a ass".

Questel observes, “Most of the action in the novel is played out in rain. Ladoo's characters are seen as trapped in the wires of rain, and therefore fixed in time, in the wet season, which is presented as the more aggressive of the two seasons. It is significant that Ladoo traps his characters in the rain and then closely examines their lives, since it allows him to make his point by exaggeration for once trapped he places them under a micros-cope. One can see that this writer has imposed all his memories of grim wet seasons onto that one wet season of his fictitious Carib Island. The result is a rain of terror that reigns supreme.

“So far, in West Indian literature our writers have used the sun as the symbol of suffering and hot indifference. The cold of the rain in Ladoo's novel is even more biting.

The sky rolled as an endless spider and the rain fell like a shower of poison over Tola. The darkness was thicker than black mud, and the wind howled as evil spirits. (p.58)

“Before singling out any of the action at the wake scene I should first record the reaction of Ma and Pa to the death of their son Rama, since their reactions are related to Ladoo's implied question - "who is to blame?"

"Me son dead widdout seem he modder face. Two days he live in dat hospital just waiting to see he modder. He wait till he dead. Which part in dat sky you is God? Me chile not even leff a trace in de world. He just born and dead. Dat is all. And he own fadder kill him too besides!"

"I tell you God kill him!" Pa shouted. "Yet you saying I kill him. Well me eh doin one kiss me ass ting for dis wake and funeral!"

I don’t know if any of you would agree with me but the perfectly described wake (biscuit, rum and storytelling) provides some of the few lighter moments in the novel as villagers exchange jokes and the “Brahmin” pundit gets his comeuppance. Questel thinks, “Ladoo uses the wake scene to show how the gods have fallen. No one including the priest has any faith in the ritual performed. In addition to this the priest's authenticity is questioned by the group and by extension what he represents.

... "He is a modderass chamar and he playing Brahmin. Bisnath Saddhu is not a priest. He fadder used to mind pigs in Jangli Tola. He modderass chamar come to Tola playing holy". And Pulbassia laughed and said, "Yeh one foot. Give him in he ass!"

Bisnath Saddhu the village priest said, "Shut you one foot tail I not from Jangli Tola. Me fadder and me come from de Punjab". "Punjab me ass Punjab! Pulbassia shouted. "You son of a bitch Baba all you used to mind hog in Jangli Tola."

"Who say dat?"

"Me Pulbassia".

The priest sat up, wiped his eyes with the back of his hands, yawned and said, "I de born a Brahmin". And Amen to that!!

Questel says “The counterpoint of irony is what knits the novel together. The central irony being that Nature for those trapped in Tola Trace is hostile, yet nature is all they know, and their ability to tame nature determines their degree of survival. The result is that we get descriptions of the hostility of nature, even the evil in nature, while alongside these are passages which show the characters becoming part of Nature”. I agree with that observation.

“One of the starkest of passages in the novel is the description of Rama covered in a ricebox. Rama is sick with fever and is placed in a covered ricebox as if dead and placed in his coffin. He is later stung by a scorpion and dies in the district hospital. It is as if his burial is rehearsed. Questell says “The placing of Rama in the covered ricebox gives some more support to the tentative theory of re-burial mooted by some commentators on West-Indian literature”. I do not know about this but hope someone could enlighten me on this aspect of our literature.”

It may no longer be true but Questel says “The only works written in the English-speaking West Indies which come closest to this novel in so far as we are talking about man versus nature” are two books I have not read – “ Roger Mais's THE HILLS WERE JOYFUL TOGETHER and Derek Walcott's THE SEA AT DAUPHIN. To Afa, "the sea it have compassion in the end"; to those in NO PAIN, the rain does not care, nor does the wind or the land.

“The rain didn't care about pounding 'the earth. Ma and drops; they looked like fat earth from above. God was earth and the sky with the whole of Tola was dark and Tola. Rain was Balraj saw the worms invading the trying to tie the rain drops.

He says: “One area of weakness in NO PAIN is that Ladoo overdoes his attempts to capture sound. The novel is top-heavy with sounds such as 'tuts', 'splunk', 'slap' and 'toots'. I understand his need to capture sound in that rain-drenched setting, but it ends in near parody. Moreover it too often interrupts the flow of the descriptions. For example,

A large cockroach with long wings flew flut over the light. It settled taps on the earthen wall. It was wet; it came from the rain to shelter near the light. Nanny took the brown hand-drum and crushed it crachak!

He believes that if Ladoo had omitted the 'flut' 'and the 'taps' that 'crachak' would have been more dramatic. He says “As it is, it is just another noise.” I think he was using it for light relief as in the way the children always say “orright” in a pathetic way that always made me laugh because it released me from the violence .

Questel ends his review –

“Since Ladoo is now dead, it is difficult for anyone to make claims for him since he cannot now fulfil them. All that can be said is that Ladoo has pointed another dimension that is open to the young West Indian writer. If the novel reads as if it is unfinished, it is because it is the first in a projected series which Ladoo's untimely death has brought to a very premature end. The novel really does not attempt to answer some of the questions raised; maybe the later novels would have cleared up some of the areas of vagueness. The strength of NO PAIN is its directness. Ladoo by looking back steadily at Tola Trace has made it the earth's centre, and that is a success that few first novels can boast.”

Christopher Laird wrote in December 2002: “ Ladoo's work showed the innocence of a Michael Anthony, the folksy gentleness of a Selvon, the satire of a Naipaul and the cosmic vision of a Mittleholzer, but above all it was steeped in a dreadness and violence all its own…. Ladoo's portrayal of his characters is quite different from how East Indians have been portrayed in our literature previously (or since). Naipaul uses his upper class Brahmin sense of superiority to poke fun at his characters. His satire depends on authorial comment and his compassion is measured out carefully. Selvon on the other hand is full of compassion but his East Indians find answers in merging with creole Trinidad. Until Ladoo, there has been no writer who wrote of the world of the East Indian peasant of central Trinidad. This he does with no outright comment. His characters speak for themselves.”

TO END - Such says this novel had drawn criticism from West Indian friends because of its blunt honesty. “Harold felt he was writing true West Indian literature with the flavour of its society in every word. His big opus was to be the epic he felt everything else had been leading up to, which was what he came back to research. “

The Dept. of English at the University of Toronto at Mississaugua (Erindale College) has established the Harold Sonny Ladoo award for creative writing, in celebration of Ladoo, a former student and graduate. It is interesting that he had been overlooked by the literati here for so long. Maybe because of the raw and terrible reality he portrays of a particular section of our society. I also think for people anxious to reinvent themselves this truth may have been too painful. The picture he paints of the wretched, isolated poor is an unpopular one and one that few non-Indian Trinidadians have witnessed but I did as a child growing up in various parts of Trinidad in the ‘50s and ‘60s

In my opinion the writing – the tone, the descriptions, the language, echo precisely the despair, the violence and the anger of the people the author wished to portray. It was what he knew.

The End

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Moral Compass

After looking at Hubble telescope's top ten greatest space photographs over at Jen's Living in Dominica, I have been thinking a lot about outer and inner spaces.

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them,” wrote Immanuel Kant, “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”
These days, the moral law within is being viewed with increasing awe, if not always admiration. The human moral sense turns out to be an organ of considerable complexity, with quirks that reflect its evolutionary history and its neurobiological foundations....... (click on text to read whole article)

The above is an excerpt from an article printed in today's New York Times which raises interesting issues on morality, the image cartel of media today and the possibility that we may, in fact, be capable of moving beyond the stereotypes that have the monopoly on morality.
Are we evolving?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a book this much.
I finished it this morning and have been trying to pin down why this book struck the right note.
Having talked so much about the Diaspora in the last six months, it's ironic that a book written out of the Spanish Antilles is the one that would rush past all the cliches and get it right all around. How so? The fuku that Diaz talks about is a funk that sits over the whole region- a murky history that's part of our collective unconscious.
It is sad that we are so separated by language as we desperately need writers like Diaz to resonate all throughout the islands and the various Diasporas around the world. There is seldom a false note to his narrative and his pumped-up, hip Spanglish narrative is punchy and moves effortlessly between the old and the new. It is the narrative of this generation-and by giving birth to this edgy, coked-up, violent and often heartbreakingly beautiful dialect, he is able to hit the bullseye of authenticity for a whole generation of displaced young Diasporians (is there such a word?). What the English Antilles has been fortunate to escape is the true evil of dictators- which has, unfortunately, become an occupational hazard of living in the Hispanic New World.
I truly like the use of the word Antillean- why do I prefer it to Caribbean? Who knows- it seems to bring with it messages that I need to hear in order to take my own
place in my homeland and expand upon the canon of the region.

You know you are part of the collective Antillean Diapsora- English, French or Spanish- when the language codes are the same; when Oscar falls in love with the Goth princess, La Jablesse, it means so much more to all of us who know, so too the presence of mongoose, the cane fields, the strong women, the brutality to women, the philandering men, the faceless men, the skinned goat- the whiff of voodoo/shango/santeria that is brought into the light of day, modernized and instantly recognizable by the Action Figures of the Fabulous Four and the strong magical genres of Tolkien. It all boils down to Good against Evil- the major quest story that has been the centre of most literature since time began.
Diaz covers it all with seamless prose that is like nothing that I have seen- ghetto talk mixed with the remnants of the magic realism legacy that is the heritage of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
His timing is right on the money- for all of us that loved Marquez, but KNEW in our heart of hearts that magic realism is now the literature of nostalgia, for all the writing in the English speaking Caribbean that has not taken up the gauntlet thrown down by the literary giants of the 1950s-60s. We've been talking around it for years- not knowing where to go next- Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Junot Diaz for pointing us all in the right direction and doing more for the region than anything CARICOM could ever have dreamed up.
The interview below is interesting to look at because I like to hear the voice of an author- and his fascination with the lost periods- I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Books that Everyone is Talking About

What would we do without the literary end of year lists that the global literatti throw out to us hungry readers?

From the Editors of The Caribbean Review of Books, a quarterly magazine covering the Caribbean literary scene, comes the list of the Top 10 Caribbean books- Thank you Nicholas et al.

Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and His Worlds
, by Tim Barringer, Gillian Forrester, Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz, et al (Yale Centre for British Art/Yale University Press)
This lavish catalogue of an exhibition that opened in October at the Yale Centre for British Art looks at the work of Belisario in the context of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century topographical drawing and painting, and the iconography of slavery and emancipation. (Look out for a review in the February 2008 CRB.)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz (Riverhead)
The long-awaited first novel by the author of the short story collection Drown tackles the horrors of the Dominican Republic's modern history, the trials of immigration and diaspora, and the mysteries of fuku americanus, the Curse of the New World, with a linguistic verve that is Caribbean and American and also something in between. (Look out for a review in the February 2008 CRB.)

Brother, I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)
Catalysed by the death of Danticat's uncle Joseph while in the custody of US Immigration in Miami, this heartbreaking memoir describes a family caught in a cultural, historical, and political crossfire. (Look out for a review in the February 2008 CRB.)

An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque, by Krista A. Thompson (Duke University Press)
A wryly intelligent examination of the ways that postcard and poster depictions of the Caribbean have influenced and been influenced by the island's tourist economies, by a young Bahamian art historian. (Reviewed by Melanie Archer in the August 2007 CRB.)

Four Taxis Facing North, by Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw (Flambard Press)
Walcott-Hackshaw's first book of short stories takes an unsparing, un-nostalgic look at the here-and-now of contemporary Trinidad, from an urban middle-class female perspective still rare in Anglophone Caribbean writing. (Look out for a review in the February 2008 CRB.)

From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People, by Lorna Goodison (McClelland and Stewart)
A family memoir by Jamaica's most important living poet, sharing with her poems their gentle wisdom, their understated lyricism, and their sense of how marvellous the real can be, and how real the marvellous. (Look out for a review in the May 2008 CRB.)

Ragamuffin, by Tobias S. Buckell (Tor)
This speculative fiction novel combines a perfectly paced plot and compelling characters with a powerful and very Caribbean allegory about personal independence and intellectual autonomy. (Reviewed by Lisa Allen-Agostini in the November 2007 CRB.)

Selected Poems, by Derek Walcott, ed. Edward Baugh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A distillation of the work of the Caribbean's great--greatest?--poet by one of his foremost readers and interpreters. (Reviewed by Brendan de Caires in the May 2007 CRB.)

There Is an Anger that Moves, by Kei Miller (Carcanet)
This second collection of poems by the promising and prolific Jamaican writer demonstrates an already distinctive voice and a rapidly maturing talent. Miller's first novel will be published in 2008. (Look out for a review in the May 2008 CRB.)

And from the around the world.
The New York Times' list of the Top Books of 2007 begins with......

By Michael Thomas. Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic, paper, $14. This first novel explores the fragmented personal histories behind four desperate days in a black writer’s life.

By Per Petterson. Translated by Anne Born. Graywolf Press, $22. In this short yet spacious Norwegian novel, an Oslo professional hopes to cure his loneliness with a plunge into solitude.

By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27. A craftily autobiographical novel about a band of literary guerrillas.

By Joshua Ferris. Little, Brown & Company, $23.99. Layoff notices fly in Ferris’s acidly funny first novel, set in a white-collar office in the wake of the dot-com debacle.

By Denis Johnson. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27. The author of “Jesus’ Son” offers a soulful novel about the travails of a large cast of characters during the Vietnam War.

Some more notables.......

THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER. By Tom Perrotta. (St. Martin’s, $24.95.) In this new novel by the author of “Little Children,” a sex-ed teacher faces off against a church bent on ridding her town of “moral decay.”

AFTER DARK. By Haruki Murakami. Translated by Jay Rubin. (Knopf, $22.95.) A tale of two sisters, one awake all night, one asleep for months.

THE BAD GIRL. By Mario Vargas Llosa. Translated by Edith Grossman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) This suspenseful novel transforms “Madame Bovary” into a vibrant exploration of the urban mores of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

BEARING THE BODY. By Ehud Havazelet. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) In this daring first novel, a man travels to California after his brother is killed in what may have been a drug transaction.

THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS. By Dinaw Mengestu. (Riverhead, $22.95.) A first novel about an Ethiopian exile in Washington, D.C., evokes loss, hope, memory and the solace of friendship.

BRIDGE OF SIGHS. By Richard Russo. (Knopf, $26.95.) In his first novel since “Empire Falls,” Russo writes of a small town in New York riven by class differences and racial hatred.

THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. By Junot Díaz. (Riverhead, $24.95.) A nerdy Dominican-American yearns to write and fall in love.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. By André Aciman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) Aciman’s novel of love, desire, time and memory describes a passionate affair between two young men in Italy.

CHEATING AT CANASTA. By William Trevor. (Viking, $24.95.) Trevor’s dark, worldly short stories linger in the mind long after they’re finished.

THE COLLECTED POEMS, 1956-1998. By Zbigniew Herbert. Translated by Alissa Valles. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $34.95.) Herbert’s poetry echoes the quiet insubordination of his public life.

DANCING TO “ALMENDRA.” By Mayra Montero. Translated by Edith Grossman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Fact and fiction rub together in this rhythmic story of a reporter on the trail of the Mafia, set mainly in 1950s Cuba.

EXIT GHOST. By Philip Roth. (Houghton Mifflin, $26.) In his latest novel Roth brings back Nathan Zuckerman, a protagonist whom we have known since his potent youth and who now must face his inevitable decline.

FALLING MAN. By Don DeLillo. (Scribner, $26.) Through the story of a lawyer and his estranged wife, DeLillo resurrects the world as it was on 9/11, in all its mortal dread, high anxiety and mass confusion.

FELLOW TRAVELERS. By Thomas Mallon. (Pantheon, $25.) In Mallon’s seventh novel, a State Department official navigates the anti-gay purges of the McCarthy era.

A FREE LIFE. By Ha Jin. (Pantheon, $26.) The Chinese-born author spins a tale of bravery and nobility in an American system built on risk and mutual exploitation.

THE GATHERING. By Anne Enright. (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic, paper, $14.) An Irishwoman searches for clues to what set her brother on the path to suicide.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. By J. K. Rowling. (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $34.99.) Rowling ties up all the loose ends in this conclusion to her grand wizarding saga.

HOUSE LIGHTS. By Leah Hager Cohen. (Norton, $24.95.) The heroine of Cohen’s third novel abandons her tarnished parents for the seductions of her grand-mother’s life in theater.

HOUSE OF MEETINGS. By Martin Amis. (Knopf, $23.) A Russian World War II veteran posthumously acquaints his stepdaughter with his grim past of rape and violence.

IN THE COUNTRY OF MEN. By Hisham Matar. (Dial, $22.) The boy narrator of this novel, set in Libya in 1979, learns about the convoluted roots of betrayal in a totalitarian society.

THE INDIAN CLERK. By David Leavitt. (Bloomsbury, $24.95.) Leavitt explores the intricate relationship between the Cambridge mathematician G. H. Hardy and a poor, self-taught genius from Madras, stranded in England during World War I.

KNOTS. By Nuruddin Farah. (Riverhead, $25.95.) After 20 years, a Somali woman returns home to Mogadishu from Canada, intent on reclaiming a family house from a warlord.

LATER, AT THE BAR: A Novel in Stories. By Rebecca Barry. (Simon & Schuster, $22.) The small-town regulars at Lucy’s Tavern carry their loneliness in “rough and beautiful” ways.

LET THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ERASE YOUR NAME. By Vendela Vida. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $23.95.) A young woman searches for the truth about her parentage amid the snow and ice of Lapland in this bleakly comic yet sad tale of a child’s futile struggle to be loved.

LIKE YOU’D UNDERSTAND, ANYWAY: Stories. By Jim Shepard. (Knopf, $23.) Shepard’s surprising tales feature such diverse characters as a Parisian executioner, a woman in space and two Nazi scientists searching for the yeti.

MAN GONE DOWN. By Michael Thomas. (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic, paper, $14.) This first novel explores the fragmented personal histories behind four desperate days in a black writer’s life.

MATRIMONY. By Joshua Henkin. (Pantheon, $23.95.) Henkin follows a couple from college to their mid-30s, through crises of love and mortality.

THE MAYTREES. By Annie Dillard. (HarperCollins, $24.95.) A married couple find their way back to each other under unusual circumstances.

THE MINISTRY OF SPECIAL CASES. By Nathan Englander. (Knopf, $25.) A Jewish family is caught up in Argentina’s “Dirty War.”

MOTHERS AND SONS: Stories. By Colm Toibin. (Scribner, $24.) In this collection by the author of “The Master,” families are not so much reassuring and warm as they are settings for secrets, suspicion and missed connections.

NEXT LIFE. By Rae Armantrout. (Wesleyan University, $22.95.) Poetry that conveys the invention, the wit and the force of mind that contests all assumptions.

ON CHESIL BEACH. By Ian McEwan. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $22.) Consisting largely of a single sex scene played out on a couple’s wedding night, this seeming novel of manners is as much a horror story as any McEwan has written.

OUT STEALING HORSES. By Per Petterson. Translated by Anne Born. (Graywolf Press, $22.) In this short yet spacious Norwegian novel, an Oslo professional hopes to cure his loneliness with a plunge into solitude.

THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST. By Mohsin Hamid. (Harcourt, $22.) Hamid’s chilling second novel is narrated by a Pakistani who tells his life story to an unnamed American after the attacks of 9/11.

REMAINDER. By Tom McCarthy. (Vintage, paper, $13.95.) In this debut, a Londoner emerges from a coma and seeks to reassure himself of the genuineness of his existence.

THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES. By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) A craftily autobiographical novel about a band of literary guerrillas.

SELECTED POEMS. By Derek Walcott. Edited by Edward Baugh. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) The Nobel Prize winner Walcott, who was born on St. Lucia, is a long-serving poet of exile, caught between two races and two worlds.

THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ. By Dalia Sofer. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $24.95.) In this powerful first novel, the father of a prosperous Jewish family in Tehran is arrested shortly after the Iranian revolution.

SHORTCOMINGS. By Adrian Tomine. (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95.) The Asian-American characters in this meticulously observed comic-book novella explicitly address the way in which they handle being in a minority.

SUNSTROKE: And Other Stories. By Tessa Hadley. (Picador, paper, $13.) These resonant tales encapsulate moments of hope and humiliation in a kind of shorthand of different lives lived.

THEN WE CAME TO THE END. By Joshua Ferris. (Little, Brown, $23.99.) Layoff notices fly in Ferris’s acidly funny first novel, set in a white-collar office in the wake of the dot-com debacle.

THROW LIKE A GIRL: Stories. By Jean Thompson. (Simon & Schuster, paper, $13.) The women here are smart and strong but drawn to losers.

TIME AND MATERIALS: Poems, 1997-2005. By Robert Hass. (Ecco/Harper-Collins, $22.95.) What Hass, a former poet laureate, has lost in Californian ease he has gained in stern self-restraint.

TREE OF SMOKE. By Denis Johnson. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) The author of “Jesus’ Son” offers a soulful novel about the travails of a large cast of characters during the Vietnam War.

TWENTY GRAND: And Other Tales of Love and Money. By Rebecca Curtis. (Harper Perennial, paper, $13.95.) In this debut collection, a crisp, blunt tone propels stories both surreal and realistic.

VARIETIES OF DISTURBANCE: Stories. By Lydia Davis. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, paper, $13.) Dispensing with straight narrative, Davis microscopically examines language and thought.

THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK: Stories. By Alice Munro. (Knopf, $25.95.) This collection offers unusually explicit reflections of Munro’s life.

WHAT IS THE WHAT. The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel. By Dave Eggers. (McSweeney’s, $26.) The horrors, injustices and follies in this novel are based on the experiences of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

WINTERTON BLUE. By Trezza Azzopardi. (Grove, $24.) An unhappy young woman meets an even unhappier drifter.

THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION. By Michael Chabon. (HarperCollins, $26.95.) Cops, thugs, schemers, rabbis, chess fanatics and obsessives of every stripe populate this screwball, hard-boiled murder mystery set in an imagined Jewish settlement in Alaska.

And from Amazon

And so began the list of the Editors' Top 100.

V.S. Naipaul and Me

Can I sustain a blog without my camera as a prop? With the help of V.S.Naipaul- I hope so.
My goal for the year- to cover all of V.S. Naipaul's work. Read it all through, in chronological order and review them here- one by one. Deep breath.

Why? Because I don't think that his work is read enough in his homeland.

And I think that we need to examine the literature that came from this place so that we can anchor ourselves in our own history.

Whether we like it or not, Trinidad is the raw material for his genius. The coal of his engine.

I straddle the generations between the pre- and post colonial eras and I would like to believe that this position has provided the dispassion of distance. It is really not personal to us. So perhaps we are the ones to bring him home again. Past the bitterness that is the small island legacy. His prose is beyond gorgeous- written with a delicacy that belies his exterior-but I am really trying to look beyond that; I am trying to track the mucky, messy birth of a writer that made the world sit up and listen.

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2001 was awarded to V. S. Naipaul "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories"

It is these suppressed histories that interest me. And the impact that this has had on our day to day life in Trinidad.

And so I start, a bit star-struck- but we shall see as I go how I feel.

The Mystic Masseur. – London: Deutsch, 1957.
Miguel Street. – London: Deutsch, 1959.
A House for Mr. Biswas. – London: Deutsch, 1961.
The Middle Passage : Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America. – London: Deutsch, 1962.
Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion. – London: Deutsch, 1963.
A Flag on the Island. – London: Deutsch, 1967.
The Loss of El Dorado : a History. – London: Deutsch, 1969.
In a Free State. – London: Deutsch, 1971.
The Overcrowded Barracoon and Other Articles. – London: Deutsch, 1972.
Guerrillas. – London: Deutsch, 1975.
India : a Wounded Civilization. – London: Deutsch, 1977.
A Bend in the River. – London: Deutsch, 1979.
A Congo Diary. – Los Angeles, CA: Sylvester & Orphanos, 1980.
Among the Believers : an Islamic Journey. – London: Deutsch, 1981.
The Enigma of Arrival. – London: Viking, 1987.
India : a Million Mutinies Now. – London: Heinemann, 1990.
A Way in the World. – London: Heinemann, 1994.
Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples. – London: Little, Brown, 1998.
Reading and Writing : a Personal Account. – New York: New York Review of Books, 2000.
Half a Life. – London: Picador, 2001.
The Writer and the World : Essays. Introduced and edited by Pankaj Mishra. London : Picador, 2002 ; New York : Knopf, 2002
Literary Occasions : Essays. Introduced and edited by Pankaj Mishra. – London : Picador, 2003 ; New York : Knopf, 2003
Magic Seeds : [novel]. – London : Picador, 2003 ; New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
Vintage Naipaul. – New York : Vintage Books, 2004

These are the ones listed on the Nobel Prize page for V.S. Naipaul. I don't see "The Return of Eva Peron".
Are there more?

The following is taken from his bio-bibliography.

Naipaul's works consist mainly of novels and short stories, but also include some that are documentary. He is to a very high degree a cosmopolitan writer, a fact that he himself considers to stem from his lack of roots: he is unhappy about the cultural and spiritual poverty of Trinidad, he feels alienated from India, and in England he is incapable of relating to and identifying with the traditional values of what was once a colonial power.

The events in his earliest books take place in the West Indies. A few years after the publication of his first work, The Mystic Masseur (1957), came what is considered by many to be one of his most outstanding novels, A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), in which the protagonist is modeled on the author's father.

After the enormous success of A House for Mr. Biswas, Naipaul extended the geographical and social perspective of his writing to describe with increasing pessimism the deleterious impact of colonialism and emerging nationalism on the third world, in for instance Guerrillas (1975) and A Bend in the River (1979), the latter a portrayal of Africa that has been compared to Conrad's Heart of Darkness.