A Perfect Pledge By Rabindranath Maharaj
I read this book a year ago in hardcover - rushed right through it, sitting in the sun at the cottage, over a couple of hot summer days. It is a beautifully detailed novel, a lively and abundant portrait of hot and lush Trinidadian life in a small village of cane farmers. It makes for a perfect summer read. It is the 1950's and a boy is born. After three daughters this is all that the father, Narpat, has wished for. Jeeves is a scrawny, quiet, and sometimes sickly boy. He is our hero, and it is Jeeves we really care about. It is Jeeves whose future his father wants to ensure. Jeeves’ loving mother, Dulari, does her best to raise her family in spite of her truly eccentric husband. Jeeves worships his father, but also observes how others see him. Narpat is extreme in his eating habits and those of his family. In fact he is extreme in everything he does, but he also enriches the lives of his children with his tales and stories.
Narpat is ever optimistic in outlook, no matter how difficult his life remains. Hard working and often ignored, Dulari is frustrated with her husband's foolishness. As others become more affluent this family continues to live in poverty - in a lopsided hut with no indoor plumbing or electricity - until Narpat decided to install them himself. These things are of no consequence to Narpat. His ideas to improve his family and his village are sometimes inspired, but sometimes seem crazy; occasionally they fall somewhere in between. Outside of the family, Narpat is ridiculed and grudgingly respected - at home his word is law.
As well as the story of a family’s struggles, it is a vivid portrayal of Trinidad over the last four decades, a deprived and sometimes mad place lurching into modernization. Rural life on the island is particularly hard in the 1960s; the infrastructure is as ramshackle as Narpat’s own home.
This is a brilliant book, the elegant narrative tone is enriched by the astonishing improvisations of a Trinidadian English infused with Indian, British, and American influences. It is perfectly written, plotted and performed. It should be a best seller, but as so often happens to Canadian writers, it is virtually unknown. Now that the paperback has been released I hope that will change as booksellers and enthusiastic readers share it with others. It is truly one of the best books I have read in the past year.
Rabindranath Maharaj will be the first author to read in our series for 2006/2007, at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, October 24, at the Charles W. Stockey Centre.