A gripping page-turner that will tug hard on your heartstrings
By Robert A. Vella
Under the Tamarind Tree by Rosaliene Bacchus is a fictional story centered on a young man in British Guyana from 1950 to the nation’s independence in the late 1960s. The two-decade long tale of his life is highlighted with haunting memories of his childhood, captivating family intrigue exquisitely unwound by the author, and touching marital troubles all told within the context of a culturally diverse country torn by political and ethnic strife. It’s a gripping page-turner that will tug hard on your heartstrings.
The story moves along briskly from scene to scene and is delightfully filled with tactile samplings of Guyanese culture particularly its lifestyles, cuisine, and colloquial speech. Reading it brought the activities, tastes, sounds, and even the climate and geography of the country vividly to my mind. It was almost like being there. This quality of the novel cannot be understated and it is the most essential component of the story.
The central character, Richard Cheong, is everyman. He is both flawed and blessed with very human attributes, and he is without doubt a product of his upbringing. In other words, he is completely content to stay on the path set before him. When others in his life – especially his wife Gloria – veer off course, it’s painfully perplexing to him. Richard does adapt, however, revealing his most remarkable trait – that is, his enduring stability in the face of so much turmoil. For someone like myself who came into this world amidst similar chaos and has spent a lifetime determined to attain peace and contentment, Richard’s resolve is truly admirable.
Perhaps that was one of the messages Bacchus wanted to convey – that living is tough, people are unpredictable, and that the better things in life must be fought for. Another message which clearly emerges in the story is the nasty nature of politics. Of all the partisan factions and political interests depicted, none are portrayed in a positive light. With the backdrop Cold War struggle between capitalism and communism omnipresent, the Guyanese – split by sharp religious and ethnic differences – battle over the meager crumbs discarded by their overseers.
The story also includes an interesting and eclectic cast of supporting characters from the motherly old sage Mama Chips to the virile ladies’ man Wesley Clarke. Children are featured prominently too with special focus on the damaging effects of neglect and mistreatment by their parents and by adults in general.
I highly recommend this fine novel for readers interested in Guyanese culture, the history of Guyana’s road to independence, the hardships of ordinary people in times of social instability, and the often disappointing nature of love, marriage, and family.
Note: Amazon prevented me from posting this review to its site because I didn’t meet the eligibility requirement of $50 minimum purchases over the last 12 months despite the fact that I’ve previously posted many such reviews.