Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 9th 2013 Contents B29
June 9, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
There s nothing worse than when a book
club becomes predictable. As book club mem-
bers settle in, readers soon realise exactly what
taste in books each member has: who relishes
classics; who gravitates towards mysteries,
who always wants West Indian literature...
Our current Sunday Arts Section (SAS) Book
Club choice, Pao, by Kerry Young is the perfect
choice for a book club book because it delves
into the unexpected and newly explored ter-
ritory of Chinese immigrants in West Indian
literature. That history has been well docu-
mented by Dr Kim Johnson and Wally Look
Lai in nonfiction, but Pao is treading on much
unexplored territory when it comes to fiction.
Pao combines West Indian literature and
humour into a thought-provoking book about
love, survival and the immigrant experience.
Young, a Chinese Jamaican herself, reminds
readers of the cultural diversity of the West
Indies as she documents the Chinese expe-
rience in Jamaica. Even with our own rich
cultural history and our experiences with Chi-
nese immigrants in T&T, most readers still
have a stereotypic image of Jamaicans when
it comes to ethnicity and religion.
Yang Pao comes to Jamaica at 14, and he
ends up the godfather of Chinatown. He is
an endearing character in spite of his rough
façade mostly because of his cultural naivety.
Yang Pao possesses the typical West Indian
bravado, but he lacks the knowledge, culturally
speaking, to come off as a ruthless villain.
Even the author, Kerry Young, admits Yang
Pao is no Don Corleone.
Young based the character of Yang Pao on
her own father, but she transcends her own
personal history and creates a wider tapestry
of Jamaican national history through the char-
acter of Pao.
"I think we re misunderstood as Jamaicans
on our journey, trying to address the difficult
and violent path of Jamaicans and the
role of colonialism in it," Young said
in a YouTube video.
Although Young lives in England, she
travelled to Jamaica to do personal and
historical research for her novel.
"I wanted an authentic voice," she
says. "I wanted readers to learn a bit
about Jamaica. I wanted readers to take
some of the wisdom of Yang s Buddhism
with them. As human beings we are both
complex and flawed. We are both good
and bad. We enter into something history
has created for us and we try to do our
Pao is an enjoyable and informative book
that proves Caribbean history can lay the
foundation for an entertaining read.
Book club questions to consider:
1. Is it important to understand the journey
of all ethnic groups who made their way to
the West Indies?
2. Do all immigrants face the same chal-
3. How does humour help or hurt Pao as
a historical novel?
You can buy Pao in local bookstores, and
it is only US $2.99 on Kindle. Join the Sun-
day Arts Section's SAS Book Club group
on Facebook to discuss Pao and the books
you are reading.
This is How You Lose Her
Riverhead Books, 2012
A REVIEW BY LISA ALLEN-AGOSTINI
Junot Díaz is one of those authors
who write with such flair,
humour and intensity that it
becomes difficult to separate subject
from narrative style. His latest book,
This is How You Lose Her, is an elec-
tric, fast-paced drive through the love
life of its protagonist Yunior, and his
relationships with his parents and
domineering older brother. If you ve
read Díaz s debut collection Drown or
his mind-blowing novel The Brief and
Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, you ll
recognise this Dominicano nerd and
his environment---his native Dominican
Republic and his adopted home of New
Jersey, where Caribbean folk of all
stripes mix and mingle---especially in
Yunior s bed. Of the three books, this
is perhaps the sauciest---there s lots of
sex and cussing, and the book reads
like the private diary of a modern-day
Don Juan doomed never to hold on to
It s this search for love that consumes
Yunior as he struggles through rela-
tionships with all kinds of women, of
all ages, backgrounds and predilections.
It is telling that the first story in the
collection begins, "I m not a bad guy.
I know how that sounds---defensive,
unscrupulous---but it s true. I m like
everybody else: weak, full of mistakes,
but basically good. Magdalena disagrees
though." The stories in the collection
are mostly told from this perspective,
of the misunderstood horner-man.
(There s only one story in which the
narrator is a woman and she herself
is engaged in an extramarital affair.)
Yet it is Díaz s special gift that he man-
ages to make such a slimy character
sympathetic, even loveable---except to
the women who leave him again and
This is How You Lose Her is finely
wrought prose under a mask of casual,
slang-infected ghetto English, heavily
infused with untranslated Dominican
expressions. You get the word sucio
in many a story; it literally means nasty,
the way a Trinidadian would call an
unfaithful lover "a nastiness," and it s
never translated or explained except
through context. But somehow one
can ride along on the tide of this
Spanglish, buoyed by the frequently
poetic excursions of Díaz s prose, like
this section from Otravida, Otravez:
When I step into the old place she
kisses me and sits me down at the
kitchen table. Only two of the house-
mates I know; the rest have moved on
or gone home. There are new girls
from the Island. They shuffle in and
out, barely look at me, exhausted by
the promises they ve made. I want to
advise them: no promises can survive
The author recently won the Sunday
Times EFG Private Bank Short Story
Award, worth £30,000, for his story
Miss Lora, which is in this collection.
The story is about Yunior s affair with
an older woman, and underlying it is
the grief he feels about his cancer-
stricken brother who has recently died.
There s something very genuine about
this May-December affair and the
tragedy underlying it---which is not
the brother s death, but that Yunior
can t ever escape his brother s legacy:
he was a sucio, too. Again, the story
contains some breathtaking and very,
very funny writing:
There were a lot of these middle-
aged single types in the neighbourhood,
shipwrecked by every kind of catas-
trophe, but she was one of the few
who didn t have children, who lived
alone, who was still kinda young.
Something must have happened,
your mother speculated. In her mind
a woman with no child could only be
explained by vast untrammeled calami-
ty.Maybe she just doesn t like children.
Nobody likes children, your mother
assured you. That doesn t mean you
don t have them.
If there was any doubt at all that
Díaz was more than a flash-in-the
pan, This is How You Lose Her should
put paid to all speculation. The guy is
a genius and this is a great work.
An unexpected trip into
our Chinese connection
Great love, great loss
and great Spanglish
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