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Junta Review -Guyana Times

‘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.
Responses to this author please telephone 226-0065 of

email: oraltradition2002@yahoo.com

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Down independence boulevard : And other stories / by Ken Puddicombe.

Source: Down independence boulevard : And other stories / by Ken Puddicombe.

Story Of The Month

NOTE: “The Story Of The Month” changes every month and might also have been featured in my collection DOWN INDEPENDENCE BOULEVARD published by MiddleRoad Publishers in 2017 and available on Amazon.

Down Independence Boulevard: and other stories
by Ken Puddicombe
Link: http://a.co/4Fy5oBg

 

2017

December -The Touch Of Peace

2018

Jan – Interview, The

 

THE INTERVIEW ©

As I ate my fried rice, I wondered if I should engage him in conversation. Or, would he think I was intruding?

I tried breaking the ice. “Are you on lunch?”

He wore no coat and from what I saw above the table, he was dressed in a white long-sleeve shirt, a small black tie hanging loosely around his neck.

“No,” he said, without looking up.

His had been the only table with vacant seats outside the mall and even after I had received his permission to sit I wondered whether he would rather be left alone.

His French fries languished in a sea of gravy at the bottom of a paper container and he was attempting the delicate job of spearing them with a miniature plastic fork no larger than a toothpick. One after the other, he impaled each member of the now sodden portion and placed it delicately in his mouth.

He had the preoccupied look of someone who had just witnessed a terrible accident and couldn’t get it off his mind. I was curious. “Do you work around here?”

He looked up from the Coke—he’d just finished the fries, and said, “No, Sir. I’m here for an interview at Food City. Do you work in the mall?”

This was encouraging. “Yes, I do, actually. What do you hope to do at Food City?”

“I’m applying for work in the Meat Department.”

“It can really be cold in there,” I said. Somehow, I couldn’t picture him with his small, lean frame, working long hours in sub-zero temperature and heaving heavy sides of meat. He had to be made of sturdier stuff than his appearance suggested.

“Yeah, but I don’t mind. I like the cold.” His face brightened up when he said this, and it made me think he really meant it.

He lapsed into silence again, twirling the straw around, peering through the opening of the Coke can to see if there was anything left to drink. Then, he said, as if it were something he desperately wanted to get off his chest, “I need this job badly. Lost my last job yesterday.”

I said nothing, hoping he would continue.

He leaned back in the chair and extracted a pack of Players and a card of matches from his pocket. He tore a match off the card and paused with it in mid-air. “You don’ mind if I smoke, do you?”

I told him Not at all. He lit the cigarette, fanned the match until the flame was out, and then dropped it into the Coke can. I heard the sizzle as it hit the bottom.

“What happened on your last job?”

He took an extended drag from the cigarette and said, “It’s a long story.”

I prompted, “What happened?”

“It’s hard to explain. Something to do with starting off on the wrong foot and working in the wrong place with the wrong people?” It sounded like one of those statements teens make in the form of a question.

I took a closer look at him while he stared at the glow of his cigarette. He was young, about seventeen or eighteen, and diminutive. I was impressed that he had been considerate enough to ask my permission to smoke. Now, as further evidence of his good manners, he was tilting his head up, angling it to blow the smoke away from me.

“The supermarkets pay well, don’t they?” I said, trying to pursue the conversation from another angle, wanting to find out the reason for his departure from the last job.

“Yes sir, a lot better than working in one of the mall stores, like Stitches.”

“Have you ever worked in one of those stores before?”

“No…” he shook his head, tapped the ashes into the paper container, watching them coalesce with the gravy. But, before he could continue, he spotted someone passing just outside the side entrance, and he shouted, “Hey Dino.”

Dino saw him and came over. “Carlo, what are you doing here?” he said as they gave each other a high-five. “Are you working, or what?”

Now, they were both seated at the table, facing me. The newcomer appeared to be a few years older. He wore a long overcoat—black with small white dots and narrow pin stripes, Italian fashion. And like Carlo, he too had his hair combed back in a high muff, fifties style: black and slick, almost as if he had dunked his head in hair gel.

“Nah man. Got an interview at Food City. Lost my last job yesterday,” he blurted out, blowing circles into the air through pursed lips. “Do you know Tony? He works at A and P too.”

“Yeah, your friend, the one you’re always hanging around with?”

“Well, we was horsing around, spraying one another with the hose—you know, the one you use to clean the floor with. Well, the boss caught us, canned both of us, on the spot. Man, was I ever sorry.” A pause, flick of the ashes into the container. “Did you hear ‘bout the rumble at school?”

“You mean the one with the gang from Notre Dame?”

“Yeah man. Bunch of guys come over in cars, picking on us.”

“Did you take them on?”

“Naw man. Those guys are BIG. One of them trying Karate on us.” He jerked his head back and forth and made slashing movements with his hands.

“That don’ mean nothing, man,” Dino said.

“These guys are for real, man. You shoudda seen them moving around.”

“Yeah, but you get them on the ground and all that Karate shit don’ mean nothing.” But, before Carlo could digest this and respond, Dino said, “Hey, you still seeing Angela?” As if the very idea of having a rumble on the ground invoked some distant memory of her.

“Angela!” Carlo repeated, with a roll of his eyes, shaking his wrist and rotating his head at the same time. Dino grinned, a wide grin that showed a dimple starting from the high cheekbone on the right side of his face and carving its way down to his jaw. The thought of Angela seemed to summon an image of indescribable pleasure they had both shared.

“Man, that Angela is something else,” Carlo said. “I’m getting wheels soon. My dad’s loaning me two thousand dollars to buy it.” I found this amusing. Had the thought of Angela provoked a spontaneous parallel with his desire to buy his own car?

“Yeah?” Dino said. “What are you getting?” As he talked, he kept taking covert glances at his reflection in the mall door to our right, no doubt looking at his long oval face, trying to perfect the circles as he blew smoke into the air. He was good looking, a young Valentino, sharp, well chiselled features, the skin of his face a smooth texture, as if he had not experienced his first shave.

“Dunno yet. Have my eyes on a Ford, Tempo or something like that. Did you hear what happened to Tony at school?”

“You mean about the dope? Yeah man, the whole school knows that.”

“He and another guy wuz smoking a joint in the john. In walks the Principal. Man, did they ever ditch it in a hurry. He almost messed his pants that time.”

Carlo shifted in his chair. He was constantly doing this to survey the crowd passing by, a relentless search of faces, as if he were forever trying to make a connection. Just a few minutes prior, he and Dino had looked across at the other table with the four girls, and then they had nodded their heads in mutual appreciation. It was another expression of the silent language they spoke—no words needed, a lift of the eyebrows, a smirk, eyeballs dancing in their sockets, just enough to communicate the message to each other.

“Have you ever tried it?” Dino said.

“What? You mean smoke dope?”

“Yeah.”

“Man you crazy. My father would kill me if I ever did. Not that I want to.”

Carlo continued his surveillance. Suddenly, he sat bolt upright on the bench, his eyes following the movement of someone heading for the entrance. In the rush of the busy entranceway, something was triggered. The guy turned around and recognized him instantly. It was uncanny. It made me wonder: does some supernatural force guide teens? Do they transmit signals to one another, something that says: I’m here, come on over and join me.

The new guy sauntered over to the table, a cigarette held casually in his hand. He wore a black bomber jacket, his light brown hair hanging loosely around his shoulders.

Carlo greeted the newcomer. “Hey man, buy me a drink.”

“Gimme the money,” Blackjacket said.

“Eff you man. You can’t buy me a drink?”

Blackjacket pushed his left hand deep into the pocket of his jeans, pulled out some change, counted it and placed a quarter and some dimes on the table. “Gimme twenty cents—this is all I got.”

Carlo said, “Mother…” and took a hasty glance in my direction. “…Sucker,” he blurted out. “Where is the rest of the money?”

“I got a big one, man. Don’ want to break it.”

“Eff you man.”

“Here,” Blackjacket said, pulling out a bill from his hip pocket to overcome the threat to his reputation. “A hundred is all I have.” He waved the note in the face of the other two.

Dino came to Carlo’s rescue. He fished out two dimes from his pocket and turned them over to Blackjacket who left to pick up the drink in the food court.

 

 

All through the conversation, I’d been sitting there, sipping my milk, following the discussion and trying not to look like an intruder. But, I need not have worried. From the moment Dino came over, to Blackjacket’s arrival, the three of them had never as much as given me a glance, except when Carlo was about to swear at his friend’s tightfistedness.

I looked at my watch. It was time for me to get back. As I silently slipped out of my seat, Carlo and Blackjacket were still there, talking, eyeing the girls, scrutinizing the crowd flowing in and out of the mall. I thought of how boys hadn’t changed much from the time I was growing up. Back in my day, we did the same things, pursued the same interests, and longed desperately for the same outlets our ever-active hormones demanded.

As I headed back to work, I chuckled. In another fifteen minutes, perhaps later, depending on how prompt he was, I would be meeting Carlo, again.

 

END

 

Racing With The Rain

CAN AN INDIVIDUAL MAKE A DIFFERENCE WHEN POWERFUL FORCES ARE ALIGNED AGAINST DEMOCRACY? CAN SOMEONE AVOID THE STIGMA OF HIS HERITAGE?

These questions are essential to the theme of Ken Puddicombe’s new novel JUNTA.

Expatriate Marcus Jacobson wants to make a difference on newly independent Saint Anglia where he is taking up a professorship but there are forces that will test his expectation. The military, under General Marks stages a coup, and Hurricane David is heading for the island.

Marcus also has skeletons in his closet. He’s descended from the Planter Class that once owned slaves on the island. He’s torn—does he have the right to get involved in the politics of the island or should he be a bystander?

The people Marcus encounters will determine his attitude to the Junta. These people include: Melanie, a student who thinks force should be used to restore democracy; Father Bert, a priest who believes in Liberation Theology; Clarence Baptiste, editor of the local newspaper who will use the media to oppose; The Reverend who runs a dirty tricks campaign for the Junta; Kentish, an islander who is a pacifist by nature and believes that events should run their course. Marcus finds himself being inexorably drawn towards Melanie and when she takes matters into her own hands, the decision is made. But, the Junta is determined to hold on to power at all cost.

Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories

A taxi driver notices the changes in Independence Boulevard since freedom was gained from Britain. A free-wheeling spirit spends his time gambling and engaging in riots. A man is sentenced to death for the murder of his lover. Two women escape racial conflict and seek a better life at home and abroad. A housewife has faced the last straw with her husband. A mailman is caught in the middle of the World Trade Centre terrorist attack. These are some of the characters encountered in this engaging collection of short stories from the pen of Ken Puddicombe.


 

 

Racing Review by Frank Birbalsingh

REVIEW OF RACING WITH THE RAIN by Frank Birbalsingh

Professor Emeritus, English Literature, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Racing With The Rain is the first novel of Guyanese born Ken Puddicombe who, since 1971, has lived in Canada where he works as an accountant. Racing offers a fictional version of political events during a turbulent period, from the 1960s to the 1980s, in the history of Guyana, formerly British Guiana. The novel is a roman a clef, one in which people and events may be identified through fictional names assigned to particular organizations, individuals or places, for example, “Liberty House” for actual Freedom House, “Arawak Hotel” for Carib Hotel, “Kingsley” for Sydney King, and “Jack Hill” for Kelshall.

The narrator Carl Dias is a Guyanese who lived through events in the novel before coming to Canada, and settling in Toronto where we first see him, in 1980, sixteen years after he left Guyana. He is Senior Economist at the Canadian Business Bank, and is separated from his Russian/Cuban partner Natasha and their two children -Alexei and Irina who play no active part in the novel. Carl receives news of the death of his father Augusto in Guyana, and his narrative consists of an account of is visit to Guyana to attend the funeral, except that chapters describing his visit are interspersed between reflections on his family or friends, and documentation of Guyana’s political history between the 1960s and the 1980s.

The narrator’s surname betrays his origin in a Portuguese community, a Guyanese minority group who were brought to Guyana as indentured workers, from Madeira, during the mid-nineteenth century. The group have evidently one well since Carl’s father enjoys the status of a successful Georgetown business man, influential among the Conservatives [an actual political party – United Force – who members are chiefly Portuguese and rich Indian-Guyanese] all vigorous supporters of free enterprise and sworn enemies of the Reform Party [actual People’s Progressive Party which is supported mainly by Indian-Guyanese] and regarded as Marxist/Leninist or Communist. A third party, the Republican Party [actual People’s National Congress who membership is largely African-Guyanese and ostensibly Marxist], forms a strategic coalition with the Conservatives despite deep ideological differences, mainly because coalition brings blessing of the Kennedy administration in the US, and practical help from the C.I.A. and American Labour Unions who share a common anti-communist aim of depriving the Reform Part of power gained [by democratic means] from an electorate that is largely Indian-Guyanese.

The two strands of the novel’s plot consisting of action from the period of Carl’s visit in 1980 and from the tumultuous period of the 1960s with strikes, riots and other ructions allow the reader to see both the collusion necessary to replace the Reform Party regime with one that is Republican, and the consequences of Republican rule, by 1980, when it had produced widespread food shortages, disorder, increased crime, corruption, repression and dictatorship that left Georgetown, once known as “the Garden City of the Caribbean” in mere shambles. “Signs of decay everywhere. Trenches were filled with stagnant water and garbage and tall reeds lined the banks. Buildings were weather beaten. Streets were perforated with potholes and sidewalks rutted and cracked.”

Puddicombe is both diligent and skilful in documenting the beauty of Guyana’s tropical vegetation, and the flavour and idiom of local speech and public banter that are part and parcel of everyday life, social habits and customs observed, for example, in a typical scene outside a cinema in Georgetown: “The aroma of black pudding, boiled corn and channa, ripe tamarind, freshly baked cassava pone drifted across to Carl as an old woman dispensed her snacks from a tray perched on top of a wooden soft drink crate.” The sentence captures both the simple, improvised quality of the old woman’s business, and the mouth-watering appeal and natural warmth of her service. As for tropical rain, it gives the novel its title when, as boys, the narrator and his friends hear the roll of thunder, precursor to rain, and in the middle of their game, grab their marbles trying “to outrun the rain before the eruption.”

But the politics of the novel and its characters are central. In such a maelstrom of political opinions and loyalties, objectivity is impossible, and Carl’s entire narrative including his acceptance of a Reform Party scholarship to study in communist Cuba declare his moderate, left-of-centre political sympathies, quite unlike the fanaticism of his father who believed that: “They [caterpillars] were like Communists, preying on people and taking everything away until the cupboard was bare.” Augusto Dias also boasted: “I’m not abandoning it [Guyana] to a Communist take over. They’re going to have to take me out of here in a pine box.” Augusto reflects the real fanaticism that caused destruction, looting and mayhem in the 1960s. It turns out he may even have supported a terrorist group -the X13. More than that, Carl discovers his half-brother Earl Singh and realises Augusto was not as upright as he claimed. Yet Augusto’s portrait is a minor masterpiece.

In the end, Carl is suspected of membership in a Toronto based organization -Restoration of Democracy in Guyana- which is believed to plan the overthrow of the Republican Party regime in Guyana. Carl did attend one meeting of the group in Toronto, and although he did not join, the friend who invited him entered his name as a member, and this is now used by Guyanese security forces to capture him and accuse of him of being a spy. Carl is trapped and helpless, in grave danger of never seeing his family again. Suspense builds as he is interrogated and tempted by intrigue and desperation. One of his interrogators, however, is a neighbour who, as a delinquent boy was helped by Augusto, and now comes to Carl’s rescue. Carl is then able to make amends for his half-brother Earl before he leaves. Whatever else it may be, Racing is an act of filial piety -one man’s loving homage to his father, warts and all.

JUNTA -What Readers Say About It

“…The diverse characters in the book become enmeshed in the struggle and the tension between them builds increasingly from page to page.” –Enrico Downer, author of There Once Was a Little England.

“JUNTA examines the politics of a nation as only a skilled storyteller like author Ken Puddicombe can.  Rich with local flavor and characters that live and breathe on the page, JUNTA will stay with you long after you close the book.”—Karen Fenech author of The Protectors Series.

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