Engaging The Word
 
  summerish, 2005
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ETW TOP 10

1 - GUY GAVRIEL KAY

2 - GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

3 - CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS

4 - CAITLIN SWEET

5 - GIL COURTEMANCHE

6 - LYNN OLSEN & STANLEY CLOUD

7 - BILL CAMERON

8 - ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH

9 - GABOR MATE

10 - DAVID ADAMS RICHARDS

RABINDRANATH MAHARAJ - A Perfect Pledge
Random House Canada, July 2005

LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW

In the Canada of today, with our strict boundaries, entrenched politenesses, unwritten social codes, and introverted view of life, it is hard to imagine a place where one can walk right into a neighbour's house and call them an idiot, and take issue with the smallest details of another their actions and social life. In Canada we try not to get too excited about things, be they real or imagined. But this is not a book about Canada, it is a book about Trinidad and Tobago, a book about life in a village, a book about a family, a book about a father and a son, and most importantly, a book about the power of a promise.

When I first met Rabindranath after his publication of "The Book of Ifs and Buts," he had seemed disinclined to delve into fiction set in his homeland. Perhaps that was because there seemed too much of it on the market at that time, what with authors such as Neil Bissoondath, or V.S. Naipaul (Bisoondath's uncle, by the way) getting feted for their works dealing with Caribbean cultures, or he didn't want to get stuck in on place as a writer, thereby becoming regionalized. I have no way of knowing, because I never asked, but whatever the case may be, I am glad he went back to Trinidad for this novel.<.p>

The greatest novelists have always been deeply rooted in a place. Even within the Canlit world this is true. Margaret Laurence, David Adams Richards, and Mordecai Richler would never have been who they were, and have done what they did without that deep, almost religious sense of place in their work. Maharaj delivers that deep sense of place in his latest novel. As you follow Narpat and his family through the four hundred plus pages of this book, you get a sense of a place unlike where we live, but wholy like who we once were. Just crack open Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, and you will understand what I mean. The life, the sense of place, and of time, is only possible through the characters in a novel. In "A Perfect Pledge," the reader is confronted with character, at it's most personal level, and is forced to see these characters not as a thing, some funny painting or quaint personality, but as the person they could very well be.

The primary focus of the novel is on Narpat, the prototypical small town great man, and his son Jeevan, who is referred to as Jeeves throughout the novel. The central premise of the book is that of a promise, a perfect pledge which is forever kept and never broken. Narpat's pledge, and Jeeve's pledge are the driving forces in the narrative. Beyond this, however, there are the perhipheral conflicts which dip in and out of the story, opening a window on Trinidad and Tobago at the time of independence.

What I found enjoyable were the parallels to be found in the novel. Mordecai Richler's classic "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" is reflected in this novel. Just as Duddy inherited his desire for land from his grandfather, Jeeves is given this same passion for land from his father. Duddy and Jeeves are both outsiders, and live in a world shackled by eccentricities. Then there is the obvious reference to P.G. Wodehouse through the character Jeeves. In an almost direct parallel, we have an outsider who is both passive, and observant. As with Wodehouse, there is a great deal of humour to be found within the book, centred in character and social mores. Finally, there is that hint of Melville in the novel. Narpat, devestated when he is swindled out of his father's land, becomes obsessively focused on protecting the little bit of land he buys, an obsession that consumes him to a greater and greater extent as the novel progresses, and which eventually leads to his own demise. Yes indeed, there is a great deal in here for literature majors to chew on.

When interviewing Maharaj, we touched on the idea of backwardness in contrast to modernity. The Trinidad and Tobago of the novel is a hopelessly corrupt place, a place where gossip and conjecture substitute for fact. It is a land wholly apart from what Canada is today, though it does resemble the Canada of the 19th century. Yet each of the characters seems somehow more human, and more real than we are. Though parochial to the extreme, they seem to bleed redder blood, cry saltier tears, and run from mad donkeys in more abject fear. Pity us then, who can only sense the ghost of such emotion by plonking down fifteen bicks at a Cinplex Odeon once a month.