Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 28th 2014 Contents B2
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, April 28, 2014
And then what better reason for
delighted amusement than to see his
grandson Neil Bissoondath deflecting
and deflating the mystique of writing,
in similar style but far more empathy
than his illustrious uncle Vidia, that
notorious scourge of fools and vapid
This felicitous joint venture between
the Friends of Mr Biswas (the NGO
responsible for the restoration of
Mohun s dreamhouse and its meta-
morphosis into "a home for writers
and the Arts," a mini Naipaul museum)
and the Bocas Lit Fest, commenced
with Bissoondath s earliest memories
of the house and its inhabitants.
In a heavily Canadian-inflected
accent (because he s lived much longer
there than here), Bissoondath recalled
an aunt (herself a mere toddler) who
attempted to carry the infant writer
downstairs, but tripped halfway, jet-
tisoning him to save herself.
Other recalls include the family dog
Boopi and the night of Independence,
with ships sounding foghorns in the
harbour, cars blaring on the streets.
Also more significantly, he recalls
how impressed he was as a ten-year-
old when visiting his grandma and
aunts on Nepaul Street to see Uncle
Vidia s books on the shelves and the
realisation they brought that "he made
his living from writing" and that this
could be a viable alternative to the usual
doctor/lawyer career. Right then and
there he decided to become a writer.
Born in 1955 and educated at St
Mary s College, Port-of-Spain, Bis-
soondath left Trinidad for Toronto in
1973 "looking for adventure."
As a writer he spurns labels "attach-
ing a nationality limits readers recep-
tion"; additionally he insists that people
(as do countries) evolve and part of his
own evolution was putting down roots
in Canada, which he considers home,
rather than Trinidad.
After dismissing a reference to
Edward Said s concept of exilic con-
sciousness , his real bomb de resistance
came with a straight-faced statement
that when he begins a novel "I have
nothing to say", and that "I don t plan
One could sense a tremor rippling
through the ranks of the literati, but
Bissoondath tempered the trauma de
salon by explaining: "I write to find
the answer to questions" and "All my
fiction begins with a character and a
Refreshingly, in a cultural landscape
where "creative writing" courses and
workshops encourage the often false
belief that writing is a talent which
can be taught, Bissoondath empha-
sised a lesson he d learned from his
Nobel winning uncle: "The only way
to learn how to write is by writing."
Although he himself has been
teaching (in French) creative writing
at Laval University, Quebec City, for
the past ten years, he s convinced
"there are two things every writer
must do---read and write."
He suggested that studying literature
(rather than reading), may actually be
more of a hindrance than a help to
the aspiring writer: "Usually you have
to forget what you learnt in literature
classes to be able to write; studying
and writing literature are two different
His own modus scribendi might
lead to the asylum, rather than to a
publishing contract in some places:
"Women s voices often come to me;
I grew up surrounded by strong
women; the aunts and grandmothers
infiltrated my imagination; the whole
idea of subservient women was alien
to our family." He is by his own admis-
sion "an instinctive not an intellectual
writer" as "you don t write with intel-
lect but guts."
Further revelations certainly
endeared him to those in the packed
audience who share his visceral, imag-
ination-driven method rather than
the strictly cerebral approach.
"I have no agenda; that s like putting
on manacles; I leave the ideas to my
In concluding, Bissoondath spoke
about his latest work---a 1,000-page
novel which took seven years to write
"after 27 years of research."
Based in fifteenth century Spain,
the novel was a natural development
of his passion for the country, and his
interest as a born Trini in the origins
of the New World project.
Like his previous six novels and the
short stories of his two collections,
this Spanish saga began with charac-
ters---Ferdinand and Isabella.
Again, it is these characters and
others surrounding them who help to
provide answers to many of his own
As an inaugural event Naipaul
House could not have done better.
The Friends of Mr Biswas are prom-
ising year-round events, at a venue
which could rival Wordsworth s Dove
Cottage or Hemingway s suite in
Havana s Ambos Mundos hotel as a
world literary heritage site.
BISWAS HOUSE from Page B1
'The only way to learn
how to write is by writing'
Also more significantly, he recalls how impressed
he was as a ten-year-old when visiting his
grandma and aunts on Nepaul Street to see Uncle
Vidia's books on the shelves and the realisation
they brought that "he made his living from
writing" and that this could be a viable alternative
to the usual doctor/lawyer career. Right then and
there he decided to become a writer.
Ken Ramchand, left, moderates and converses with Neil Bissoondath during an NGC Bocas Lit Festival's One-
on-One with Neil Bissoondath event at the Naipaul Museum, Nepal Street, St James, on Wednesday. PHOTO:
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