Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 3rd 2015 Contents SUNDAY 3rd may, 2015 -- UWI TODAY 15
How do you measure the
history of a country? rough
its political events? Its
technological advances? Or
through its people? What if
you knew a man who had lived
through it all? What kind of
story would he tell?
In Barbara Lalla's
intricate, multi-narrative saga
she wrestles with the history of
Trinidad as seen through the
in uence of teacher, brother
and uncle, Nathan Deoraj or
more fondly as the book's eponymous title, "Uncle Brother."
e book opens into unfamiliar territory for Caribbean
literature fans; the year 2010, followed by an early morning
text message from an unknown source:
SEPTEMBER 12, 2010 - 3:45 A.M.
they let me send one more raelly last one Uncle
Brohther they have me ereh...help me Ullni they say money.
no police or they will do it like htey said they have an axe
e ominous text would not seem out of place in any
modern day suspense novel, but Lalla sets up the reader for
something far more complex as she embarks on the entire
family history of the Deoraj clan. We learn of Uncle Brother's
humble beginnings as a young Indo-Trinidadian living in
20th century Couva and it is here that Lalla's writing shines.
When Nathan and his family are unexpectedly forced to ee
their home, they come face to face with a treacherous river
that threatens to engulf them all. Lalla de ly weaves their
family's dynamics with tension- lled action:
"And so we went until we were almost across, but at
the second-to-last stone the gap was wider and the water
erce and muddy in between, and although we were now
close to the other side I shouted, "Ma, we can't get over. Leh
we go back..."
Phuwa shouted at us over the tumult, and Ma stared at
her incredulously because Phuwa could not have said what
it sounded like she said.
"Throw the baby!" Phuwa yelled again, her arms
opening wide. "I go catch he."
I steadied myself and hugged Judith as tight as I could.
" row!" Phuwa yelled."
is story stands out in the reader and Nathan's mind,
signaling the start of his obsession with documenting stories
as a means of preserving his family's history -- a theme that
runs throughout novel.
As the gure of Uncle Brother the teacher emerges,
Lalla continues to provide meta-commentary on his desire
to write: "It's a funny thing," he said. "I don't understand it
myself. It's like something writing itself inside me, but I don't
know how to stop and pull it out."
Anyone who has ever tried to retell a story would
sympathise with Nathan's inability to adequately capture
the nuances of his family's narrative as it unfolds, not for
his lack of trying. Lalla continues to cement Uncle Brother's
character as the family's stalwart and a man who values
education above all else, but his interiority gets lost at times
and is mainly shown through the eyes of other characters:
"In the village, respect for Brother prevented anyone except
Lezama from breathing a word like tabanca, but there
were glances of sympathy against which he visibly steeled
Lalla's previous works of ction like "Cascade" and
"Arch of Fire" have also dealt with the changing face of
history as seen through the lens of private family dramas
both in Jamaica and in Trinidad.
In Uncle Brother, local readers can identify with
the private language families share from a linguistic and
emotional viewpoint. Pages are steeped in colloquialisms
which are immediately recognisable to Trinis like the
presence of "Limacol" at a funeral or children learning to
approach someone cautiously to avoid "raising a nest of
Private and public
in Barbara Lalla's
A Novelist's History
Uncle Brother is published by e
University of the West Indies Press
and can be found at the University
Bookstores and online book retail sites.
A Taste of 21
For their 21st anniversary, Arts-in-Action is posing a
culinary challenge called "Artists Can Cook Too!" today
(Sunday) from noon at the Fatima Parish Grounds at
Bushe Street, Curepe.
They're calling it "21 Ingredients; 21 Flavours"
and have invited applied creative arts companies to
participate. Each company will choose 5-8 members to
be their culinary team and make 21 avours come alive
from the 21 ingredients.
Since 1994, Arts-in-Action has been the eatre in
Education outreach programme of the Department for
Creative and Festival Arts at e UWI, St. Augustine;
founded by Dr. Dani Lyndersay (former Senior Lecturer,
Coordinator of eatre Arts, and Head of the DCFA)
under the headship of Rawle Gibbons (founding Head
of the DCFA, and Senior Lecturer at UWI).
marabunta." e frequently told Caribbean story of having
a rst-generation university student leave everything behind
to make their own way so they could come back and better
their family's circumstances also appears and many other
narratives like this however, it begs the question why?
e book hinges on the unfailing admiration bestowed
on Uncle Brother by family and community, but this gets
belaboured over time and his ceaseless devotion to upli ing
lives through sel essness comes across as showy, leaving
the reader mistrustful of the plethora of characters who
seem to appear only to reinforce the protagonist's greatness.
While Lalla's e orts to highlight the lesser discussed aspects
of Caribbean history such as kidnappings and the use of
gramoxone are commendable; it gets in the way of the
story's impetus and overreaches into prose that is ambitious
in scope, but lacks the necessary payo for readers to truly
become invested. Nonetheless, Uncle Brother's role as a
ctional historiography embeds itself into the canon of
Caribbean literature as a formative book, telling sides of
history that should be on public record.
BY JEANETTE AWAI
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