‘Junta: The Coup is On’ – A novel by Ken Puddicombe
‘Junta…’ is more than a novel merely about a bloodless coup, executed by the military in a seemingly flawless plan headed by General Septimus Ignatius Marks, wrenching power from the legitimately elected government, as it goes beyond the coup into the machinations of the junta to hold onto to power, at whatever cost, pitting its machinery of manufactured fear and military decisiveness backed by a gang of mercenaries/thugs, headed by The Reverend – a merciless criminal, carrying out the dictates – doing the dirty work – of the army acting under direct instruction of Captain Stevenson, against tiny groups of people seeking the return to civilian rule and the restoration of democracy, a group consisting of students of a university led by Melanie Sanderson, the pugnacious editor of a newspaper, Clarence Baptiste, and a reformist priest, Father Bert, as it goes beyond the junta birthed in the wake of the coup as General Marks is supplanted by his protégé, now General Glen Stevenson. All of the above is set against the backdrop of Hurricane David which adds little to the suspense of the plot, but was a major player in further pauperising the less fortunate while sparing the rich and fortunate few.
This political/romance thriller is set in Saint Anglia, an imaginary island in the Caribbean bearing many similarities to Guyana as people, places and events are invoked in the forms of Ricky Singh, Jim Jones, Rabbi Washington, Father Darke etc, even CARD (Crucial Action for the Restoration of Democracy) is not dissimilar to GUARD. Saint Anglia was a ‘peaceful place’ – sugar plantation economy thriving first on enslaved labour and then indentured labour – until after independence when the ugly head of racism, class and social injustice brought divisions to the surface in a way forcing everyone to take a side – a side for or against injustice.
The novel is divided into fourteen chapters with the first and second chapters introducing all the major characters while the next two chapters focused on the coup, accounting for one third of the book, and remaining pages deal with the junta’s struggle to hold on to power and subsequent supplanting of the leader from within.
The novel opens with the beginning of a coup as Marcus Jacobson, descendant of the planter class, returns to his place of birth to take up tenure of professor of history at the local university where the impetuous protagonist, Melanie Sanderson, former lover of Captain Stevenson and daughter of an ex-Premier who was kicked out of office because he was white, is a student.
As the junta headed by General Marks attempts to consolidate it stranglehold on power, it is met with opposition from various individuals and groups even as Professor Jacobson turns his back several times on invitations and promptings mainly by Melanie to support the fight for the restoration of democracy. The resistance to the junta is answered with brute force damaging limbs and property, leading to bloodshed when a protest march exposes the junta for what it really is – an evil to society.
That evil is finally defeated but that is not the end of the story. The end of the novel is sort of tame (as is the beginning) with Professor Jacobson finally leaving the island and with Melanie Sanderson declaring that she may eventually recommence the relationship with Stevenson who is now General and new leader of the junta. All of this is sort of summed up in what Reverend Bert said, “No one is ever totally bad as no one is ever totally good.”
This seemingly intriguing story is diluted by the interjection of more twenty back stories of major and minor characters, created by the author who, it seems, is obliged to make them all rounded characters.
Quite interesting is the author’s use of smoking as a motif – almost every character is a smoker, lending to the adages ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ and ‘if you play with fire, you get burned’ as the reader finds out that many persons get burnt.
Interestingly too, the author accomplishes his own coup (de grace) by treating the reader to beautiful descriptive prose, impressive characterisations, the overt and covert activities of a newspaper and the interesting history of coups and the politics of the Caribbean.
“Junta: the Coup is On” is a welcomed addition to a short list of Guyanese and Caribbean political thrillers.
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