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Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Brown Curtains by Clive Sankardyal

Book Review
by Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle

A REMARKABLE piece of literature has joined the list of excellent Guyanese novels. This time, the author is a former career teacher from a humble rural background. But surely, this first novel will remove him from obscurity.

The Brown Curtains’ by Clive Sankardyal expected to hit the bookshelves in Guyana by the end of this month is indeed a brilliant piece of prose writing for a first novel, and is a must read for every Guyanese, particularly as a means of delving into the more sophisticated and complex issues of race relations, cultural tolerance, sociology, philosophy and politics.

It is not surprising that the book won the St. Lucia National Writers Award - where Sankardyal is currently based - and like many of Guyana’s foremost writers, he has also excelled while being abroad.

Perhaps, being away from the actual situation gives one the space and time to soberly and objectively analyse and reflect on the Guyanese reality which has been so much influenced by politics and race relations.

However, `The Brown Curtains’, in which the main character Raj, a migrant Guyanese pharmacist of Indian descent, becomes involved with Felicity, a St. Lucian beauty of African extraction, and eventually marries her, gives a vivid description of how deep-seated are traditions, culture and religious beliefs. The novel provides an insight into the nerve-wracking complexities they can cause within families.

When Raj’s staunch Hindu parents and siblings back home in Zeelugt hear about his relationship with Felicity and the couple’s intention of getting married, it caused ripples, immediately triggering a feeling of a betrayal of Raj’s religious and traditional beliefs. In the process, Raj is resented and shunned.

“Look wha shame Raj bring pun awe,” Raj’s mother declares, stressing their committed involvement in the Mandir in the village.

Even more distressing to his parents and siblings was the fact that, in accordance with Hindu tradition, they had already “fixed” him with a girl of their choice from the village.

And it is here the long saga of an emotional battle between Raj and his parents becomes intensified. His parents insist on orthodoxy and Raj holds out on his more modern and open approach to issues of love and marriage, and, in a determined manner, resists his parents’ insistence on giving up Felicity to marry the Hindu girl of their choice.

In the end, Raj’s father, reluctantly, painfully, and in a state of depression, attends the couple’s wedding ceremony in St. Lucia, and eventually begins taking steps to accept his daughter-in-law.

While the main plot of `The Brown Curtains’ is the story of Raj and Felicity, this is wonderfully interwoven with an insight of the mindset of Guyanese teachers in the 1980s, about the politics and future of their homeland, which decisively influenced their migration to other Caribbean territories, and the trials and tribulations they endured in adjusting to a new culture and environment.

The intricacies of this process of adjustment is so lucidly narrated by Sankardyal - who refers to himself in the book as Ron - that one gets the feeling that he is actually there with these fellows, particularly those scenes where inevitably tempers flare and all the Guyanese adjectives, expressions and cuss words flow freely.

For a first book, Sankardyal has done a remarkable job, and for those who have read V.S Naipaul’s Miguel Street, they would sense a similarity in style, whereby serious issues of sociology and culture are related in lavish humour and hilarity, but the message remains firmly embedded in the story.

I have been privileged to work with Sankardyal for more than ten years at Zeeburg Secondary School and to be his friend for many more years, and have always found him to be a humble “roots man” with an excellent sense of humour so evidently reflected in `The Brown Curtains’.

It is also no wonder that the setting of his book mirrors the village of Zeelugt, East Bank Essequibo where he lived most of his life and to which he is so committed. While he was living in Guyana, many residents fondly referred to him as `Zeelugt’.

One of the witty characters in the book, `Kalli’, whom Sankardyal describes so vividly, characterises his attachment to Zeelugt and his indelible experiences there, and hence his nostalgic reflection in his book.

Posted by jebratt :: Sunday, February 05, 2006 :: 0 comments

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