Under The Tamarind Tree by Rosaliene Bacchus

UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE

 Copyright 2019 By Rosaliene Bacchus 284 pgs

Published by Lulu Press, Inc. USA

Review by Ken Puddicombe

 

Front Cover - Under the Tamarind Tree

The fruit of the Tamarind Tree holds a puzzling allure to people in the tropics, its tangy and acidic fruit devoured obsessively, even as it stimulates the taste buds with spasms of unpleasantness that last long after the fruit is consumed. The tree becomes a symbolic forewarning of all that befalls the colony of Guiana and its main protagonist, Richard Cheong—taste at your peril, because there is a price to pay!

The book is filled with images that evoke this obsession with the tamarind tree, like when Richard “looked up at the bright green tree, towering over him like a vengeful judge. The way their fine feathery leaves folded up at dusk used to fascinate him as a kid. No more.” The Tamarind Tree reminded him of the guilt (over an illicit affair) and shame (that he had lost his son and heir). Richard’s best friend, Wesley describes Richard’s sister Mildred, who is Richard’s main foil in the plot: “She’s like tamarind: sour-face with a hard soul like the tamarind seed.”

The book starts in 1953, when Guiana is still a colony, the only British possession in all of South America. Nationalism is rearing its head in British colonies around the world and Guiana is no exception. The colony is a polyglot of languages and cultures: Hindi and Urdu from India; Chinese mainly from Hong Kong and some from the mainland; Portuguese mostly from Madeira, all of these passed down by the older generation of indentured workers brought to the colony by the British planters as a deliberate ploy to supplant the African slaves (after the abolition of slavery in 1833) and suppress wages. Add these languages to the pidgin English of the Blacks already there and you arrive at a creole mish-mash. Along with their languages, these people also brought the rich culture of their homeland. Richard Cheong, the main protagonist is caught between these societies throughout the book which is rich with the cultural heritage of the Portuguese and Chinese Catholics and British Anglicans, the Muslims, the Hindus getting married in their own rites.

Richard is also superstitious, like his forebearers. He has an ongoing conversation with his dead younger brother Eddie and his father. This is almost driving him crazy, and the reader gets into his head as he is thinking of his wife and deceased son: Pa, I don’t know she (his wife Gloria) no more. She want to live in dead people house, like she still holding on to jumbies (evil spirits). This obsession with his deceased son and the yearning to have another will eventually create a chasm between him and his wife. His older sister Mildred tells him: “All you wanted was a stupid son. Did it ever occur to you to ask your wife what shewanted?” At one time, beset by personal problems and conflict with Gloria, he thinks: I should-a know the damn tamran tree was a bad omen. He even threatens the tree at one time: “I going cut you down, limb by limb,” as if this would solve all his problems! He thinks of his wife: An obeah-man had given her control over his (Richard’s) mind. Superstition controls Richard and rules the land.

The book is filled with the Guyanese twang born out of this array of languages that has bred a paucity in the way Guyanese speak, creole like, at a rapid pace that takes liberties in the grammar that many in the English-speaking world would find difficult to decipher. It has a rhythm and meaning all of its own. Like when Richard tells his pregnant wife: “You ain’t sleep good last night. Go lie down. I making breakfast.” Or when he describes the death of his child to Mama Chips: “My baby son dead. The cord cut off he air.” The death of his son is a harbinger for all that subsequently befalls Richard, since his obsession with having a male heir is typical Guyanese male swagger and he grows blind to his wife Gloria’s needs. At one point in the book he even blames himself for his marital problems, but in typical machismo style: “It’s all my fault. I was too soft with her (Gloria). I should-a listen to Lach (his friend) and show her I was the boss…” Spousal and emotional abuse is not outside the realm of showing a woman who is the boss and infidelity is built into the psyche of the Guianese male of the era: He needed Gertrude (his mistress—called an “outside woman” in local terms) [for him] to be a man again…to numb the pain of losing his only son.

In1953 the Guiana constitution was suspended by the British under the perception that the country was threatened by Communism, this at a time when Britain was governed by the Conservatives under Churchill, an avid anti-communist. British troops were sent to “retake the colony from the upstart nationalist socialists/ communists” and the country lost its self-government. In the book the Guiana Labor Party under Lalkumar (actually the Peoples Progressive Party [PPP] under Cheddi Jagan) is swiftly thrown out of office and the leaders incarcerated. The Peoples National Congress (PNC) that was headed by Forbes Burnham is represented by an ambitious Baxter. The third opposition party, United Force (UF), “the newly founded Portuguese party” led by Peter D’Aguiar is headed by the fictional Xavier.

Bacchus captures the upcoming racial conflict, disturbances, racial cleansing (“Some-a-we gotta leave the village we great-grandparents live in and move to a more safe village…”), and insecurity between the two main races: Indians and Blacks. The riots and conflagration in 1962 when arsonists burnt down the business section of the city was a turning point in the security and stability of the country, a time after which police had to carry arms.

In a moment of lucidity, when his daughter Lizzie asks, “Why are blacks and East Indians fighting?” Richard replies: “I think it got something to do with old hurts. From the days when slavery did end. Trouble start when the white people start bringing ships full a East Indians to work in the cane fields.” And she, in a moment of precocious perspicacity, says: “But that was a long time ago.” It does not explain that this inherent hostility handed down through generations had something to do with slavery being replaced by an indentured system tying East Indians to the land. Nor does it account for the resentment of freed slaves that the hoped-for fair wages they sought from the plantocracy disappeared into thin air due to the cheap wages paid to those indentured workers.

Tamarind Tree is also a nostalgic walk through the yesteryear of a former British Colony where some of its inhabitants still yearn for the good old dayswhen they feel they were able to walk the streets safely, where they can claim things were much better off under the British. The local girls are said to be enamored with the white soldiers and look upon them as a way out of the colony into a better future. People suffer under the illusion that a move to the mother country is a means to living a good life and the road to independence holds untold risks. Richard’s mother-in-law Dorothy describes her husband, Winston Henry, a police officer and main antagonist: “But you know how father is. He more loyal than the Englishmen.” His is a typical colonial view shared by those who didn’t  think the colony was capable of self-government or independence. And who knows, perhaps the post-independence era might very well contribute to this outlook.

Richard: His dream of breaking away from the Lee-a-Shoo (his employer) family hung out of reach, like a kite trapped atop a coconut palm. It becomes an apt allegory for the colony as it strives for independence, its constitution (one of the most progressive in the British Caribbean at that time) suspended and the drive for self-government thrust decades back. But, ever the entrepreneurial spirit imbedded in him, like his ancestors and many Guianese, Richard starts a chicken farm and eventually strives to break the ties that bind him to his father-in-law, this in parallel with the drive for independence from Britain. His farm is in the outskirts of Georgetown and he ponders over his separate life from his family: Why me and my family gotta live separate like this? This is the price for we independence? His independence, it seems, has to come with a price, similar to the colony.

Elections are held before independence in May 1966 and the system has been changed to Proportional Representation—a deliberate move engineered by the British and American governments to keep the socialist Jagan (ala Lakumar) out of power and hand power over to the opposition parties. British soldiers patrol to keep the uneasy peace. The exodus has begun: “Richard passed people lined up outside the American Embassy in Georgetown.” The business class and the rich have started transporting their wealth abroad. The middle class seek visas for America and Canada and other nations.

There is hope. “…the tamarind tree, glorious with yellow blossoms and pink buds, leaves and blooms covered the rain soaked black earth.” In the end, Evelyn, his sister, tells Richard: “I’m glad you’re finally seeing the light.” It is too late for Richard to find the happiness he desperately sought with Gloria. But he is consoled by the fact that his oldest daughter Lizzie is devoted to him. His business has started to prosper, too. There is hope for his future, but we’re not sure about the future of the Tamarind Tree and the new country of Guyana. Richard says in the 1968 election which was manipulated with massive fraud at home and abroad: “Independence is only a big word. The white people still running the show.” The country is being turned into the world’s first socialist cooperative republic and a dictatorship runs the country, but life goes on.

Under The Tamarind Tree adds to the glorious collection of literature by Guyanese abroad writing about a tempestuous era that is too swiftly glossed over and forgotten in the world of power politics.

UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE CAN BE OBTAINED HERE

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Rosaliene_Bacchus

 

 

 

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RACING WITH THE RAIN (2012) by Ken Puddicombe

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JUNTA (2014) by Ken Puddicombe

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DOWN INDEPENDENCE BOULEVARD AND OTHER STORIES (2017) by Ken Puddicombe


PERFECT EXECUTION AND OTHER STORIES (2017) by Michael Joll

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Janet Naidu -Poet

Janet Naidu was born in Covent Garden, Guyana, a rural village close to the sugar plantations of Farm and Diamond.  Janet comes from humble beginnings—her father worked as a cane cutter and her mother sold greens in the village and in the market place.  She, along with her seven siblings assisted their parents in earning extra income.

Janet has made Canada her home since 1975. In 1973, two of her poems appeared in a small booklet called Heritage. After writing sporadically over the years, her first collection of poems, Winged Heart (1999) was short-listed for the Guyana Prize for Literature, poetry category.  Her other two collections include Rainwater (2005) and Sacred Silence (2009). Her poems capture themes of uprooted movements, nostalgic memories, resettlement, feminism, resilience and survival. Her writings also include essays of cultural and historical themes. Janet Naidu (4)
Her poetry and writings have appeared in news media, online publications, anthologies, referenced in books on Indo Caribbean themes and in the Women’s Journal of the University of the West Indies.

Janet obtained a BA from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of London, UK.


Janet, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for my readers. I’d like to focus on your collection Rainwater, in addition to your writing, in general.

Q. At what age did you start to write? What do you remember writing about? Does that writing still exist today?

A. As a teenager I sold greens in the village with my mother and had a notepad to write down credit given to the villagers. I used to also make little sketches and writings at the back pages when I waited for people to purchase items in our baskets. But most significantly, I started writing to pen pals around the world after posting my name and address in a pen pal magazine. I had pen pals from New Zealand, England, Germany, Japan, Pakistan, USA and many other countries. It was during this time, I entered into writing to pen pals around the world, telling them about my family life at home, and life in Guyana. I used to get creative, talking about simple things in the village, like when the sugar cane would burn and the cane dust would come through our windows. I made it sound exciting. Living in Canada, I am often taken back to that time when I was care free and thoughts of the natural world flowed so greater then. This reflection continues to influence my writing.

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Down Independence Boulevard –What Readers Say About it

February 19, 2017

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase 
“Down Independence Boulevard” is another masterpiece by Kenneth Puddicombe following on the heels of “Junta” and “Racing with the Rain” both of which also fall into the category of excellent historical fiction.His latest work is packed with sixteen wonderfully written stories from which the reader can pick and choose the ones that are most appealing, as I have. Anyone who has read Ken’s previous books will have been already accustomed to his skill in holding the reader’s imagination with page after page of exciting detail. Whether he is writing about the political struggles between different factions in the former British Guiana or more intimate stories of a personal nature within a Guyanese family, his possession of a broad vocabulary and a masterful use of the English language should impress any reader. I haven’t yet read the entire sixteen stories which is another benefit of selecting the stories that one wants to read in any sequence. So far I am enjoying “Down Independence Boulevard”.You will too.

Rosaliene Bacchus

February 27, 2017

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase
An excellent read. Ken Puddicombe’s short stories are riveting and, in many cases, heartbreaking. His stories give us a close-up view of the effects of political unrest in disrupting the lives of families and individuals, forcing them to seek refuge in foreign lands. But Puddicombe doesn’t end there. He takes us to Canada and the United States where the immigrants, legal and illegal, attempt to rebuild their lives. Each story is a gem.

Ken Puddicombe sparks curiosity, melancholy, anger, and laughter as he shares the lives of the various characters in “Down Independence Boulevard”. These stories lend a glimpse into Guyana’s history and culture, while unraveling unique storylines. The reader is torn between being able to relate to the characters in one story, then feeling outraged by their actions in the next story! The stories build slowly, and you find yourself pondering and questioning, and then the answers are slowly revealed. As a first generation Canadian, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Guyana through the lives of Puddicombe’s diverse characters, his choice of settings, and the lifestyles of the characters. “Down Independence Boulevard” left me missing the characters and wondering what is to come for them…perhaps a sequel!


Having read the previous books by Ken Puddicombe,I must say that Down Independence Boulevard was masterfully presented by him and once again showed his skilful depiction to detail, which appeal to the five senses and imagination. Ken’s way of delving into our imagination with his many sensuous details help the reader realize that persons,places and things are within the phenomenon he describes.
The start of every page not only brought humour but the longing to get to the next page to experience the characters with the imagination you could be that person.
Reading the assorted stories was a pleasant change from having to read through a book with the same characters from beginning to end.
Well done; highly recommended and look forward to the next writings of Ken Puddicombe.
Bazp


Elaine Gardiner

March 7, 2018 at 3:47 pm

“Down Independence Boulevard” is an amazing first collection of short stories and Ken Puddicombe’s remarkable story telling. “Black Friday” left me with sadness; “The Family Photograph” brought a smile to my face, but “The Last Straw” has to be my favourite, as I am left imagining about the outcome of the moustache (!) and hoping that Zorina was able to have a successful and happier life, but then I am continuing in my mind what was only a story, but such a good one!



Jean Tiwari

Down Independence Boulevard and other stories

A great book of well written and descriptive short stories.

I do have quite a few favourites, some of which relates to my years growing up in Guyana.

My favourite of all would be “The Last Straw” a story a woman being exploited by her in-laws and her very vain husband. Her revenge was quite amusing, and I smiled to
myself a long time after, whenever I thought of the ending. Was even smiling while writing this and recalling the story. Would love a follow up on this. -Jean Tiwari


A Cineaste Remembers…

[Cineaste: noun. Cinema enthusiast or devotee.]


 

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The cinema played an important part in my youth, for so many reasons.

For someone growing up in the Fifties in Georgetown, in what was then British Guiana, it was the main form, perhaps the only form  of entertainment. It’s importance and impact on our culture and development cannot be overstated.

Here are some recollections of what it was like.

[Comments and similar recollections invited from readers for moderation. Subject to editing].

My memory goes back far enough that I recall the price of a ticket back in the Fifties. We were still on the Sterling currency in those days and a ticket to see a movie cost Half-a-bit, which would be four cents. A Bit was eight cents. A Bit-and-a-half was twelve cents. A shilling was the next denomination. These were all silver coins, minted obviously in the mother country—England. —Ken Puddicombe.

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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 Front Cover of Junta A Novel by Ken Puddicombedemocracy, 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.

 

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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.

 

For a signed copy of Racing With The Rain eBook

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.

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