Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 8th 2014 Contents B29
June 8, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
BB AC B
If you think that drugs, drug car-
tels and drug smuggling are everyone
else s problem but your own, then
you really need to read our June Sun-
day Arts Section (SAS) Book Club
choice, The Sound of Things Falling,
a novel by Colombian-born author
Juan Gabriel Vásquez.
The Sound of Things Falling tells
the surreal story of Bogotá after it
became infamously crowned the drug
capital of South America. This is a
story that represents the decline of
many cities---and even countries---once
drugs, corruption and drug-related
political assassinations become the
order of the day.
Vásquez sidesteps the economic
and political issues behind the drug
trade, choosing instead to concentrate
on how ordinary people become
sucked into a drug-related culture---
if they don t become victims of it.
Vásquez shows how the drug trade
has an impact on ordinary individuals
through three characters: Antonio
Yammara, a young professor of
jurisprudence; Ricardo Laverde, an
elderly man who is rumoured to have
just been released from prison after
a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking;
and Elaine Fritts, Laverde s Ameri-
Yammara quickly learns how an
innocent bystander can be pulled
unknowingly into a traumatic, life-
threatening situation that is a result
of some drug deal; Laverde discovers
how it is possible for an an ambitious
young man to be lured into the drug
trade without thinking of the con-
sequences; and his innocent wife,
Fritts, realises, all too late, that there
is no way to turn your back on the
drug trade when someone close to
you is involved.
In chilling detail, The Sound of
Things Falling manages to show just
how the drug trade affects everyone---
even the most innocent and law-abid-
ing citizen---once it infiltrates a coun-
try. Greed, misguided ambition and
a yearning for success grab Laverde,
who wants to find a way to support
and impress his foreign-born wife.
Yammara is the innocent bystander
who knows what is going on in his
country, but never dreams the problem
can touch him, even though he is
acquainted with a suspicious character.
The most interesting and by far the
saddest story belongs to Fritts, an ide-
alistic young woman from the US who
comes to Colombia to work as a Peace
Corps volunteer. She is totally innocent
of what is going on around her. Her
innocence turns into denial and then
passive acceptance. She simply choos-
es to turn her back on a nation s prob-
lems because she can t face what her
husband is doing.
The Sound of Things Falling is an
entertaining read with chilling reve-
. Is it possible for an one to escape the reperc ssions of a dr g c lt re?
. Who do o think is most lnerable hen the dr g trade mo es into a
co ntr ?
. Ho diffic lt is it to ret rn to a "normal" societ once dr g lords
infiltrate a societ ?
. Is dr g sm ggling more of a political or economic iss e?
. Do o see an similarities bet een T&T and Bogotá?
6. Ho m ch do o feel that the dr g trade in T&T affects o ?
A review by
A A C A
In his foreword to Vashti
Bowlah s Under the Peepal Tree,
Ken Ramchand precisely outlines
the ambitions and scope of this
self-published short-story collec-
tion. He writes that "the author s
subject is the experience of people
of Indian origin, their making and
their un-making, in the second half
of the 20th century and the first
decade of the 21st."
The collection was published in
2014, and launched at this year s
NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Several of the
stories were previously published in
regional literary journals, including
the Caribbean Writer, Poui: the Cave
Hill Journal of Creative Writing, and
Bowlah engages directly with the
mission statement detailed by Ram-
chand. There is little of her writing
style that retains identifiable flour-
ishes or conceits. In her personal
introduction to the book, she
describes cultural preservation of
the Indo-Caribbean experience in
T&T to be the work s chief concern.
Linear, methodical and shorn of
ornamentation, each story in Under
the Peepal Tree engages with the
interior, often domestic life of an
Indian living and working in T&T.
The stories are principally about
the personal crosses borne by Indo-
Caribbean women, particularly as
they confront the unhappy burdens
of difficult husbands. These hus-
bands are typically symptoms of an
overarching, patriarchy-infused cul-
tural system that burdens its female
subjects with a litany of self-efface-
The collection begins grimly in
this vein, with the story A Daughter s
Cry. In it, the stalwart yet terrified
Meena flees the oppressive structure
of her abusive household, with her
baby twins Rani and Ravi precari-
ously in tow.
Meera s misfortune successfully
conveys the ways in which women
were (and continue to be) agents of
male-ordered hegemony. Meera s
mother is arguably the guiltiest party
in abetting the production of her
daughter s multiple sorrows.
"What foolishness you saying?
You don t know nothing about work
and just now you go make your child.
Married women does have to stay
home and take care of their family."
This is Meera s mother s irritated
edict, delivered when Meera suggests
the possibility of securing a job for
herself on the cocoa estate.
Holding firm to her faith, and the
yoke of tradition to which such belief
is inextricably tied, Meera s mother
becomes an architect of the abuse
her daughter receives, and an agent
of the exile Meera must enact in
order to flee the traumas meted out
by her drunken husband, Suruj.
Favourable depictions of Indian
men in Trinidadian society are thin
on the ground in Bowlah s stories.
When a good Indian man surfaces,
he is held up as a near-mythical fig-
ure, much like the young and hand-
some doubles vendor Roshan in
Catch of the Day.
Bowlah situates the action of this
story in a rural fishing village, where
gossip is the community s daily cur-
rency. In this setting, women s sex-
uality is policed rigidly, with women
themselves once more being the
greatest dismantlers of each other s
agency. Roshan s beautiful new wife,
Nisha, is perceived to be a threat to
the happiness of the other house-
"She making we look bad, acting
like the perfect wife, swinging she
hips left-right-and centre, making
we men drool every time they see
she," is just one of their bitter esti-
mations of Nisha. The ways in which
these housewives try to destroy
Roshan and Nisha s joy draws comic
parallels to the inherent misery of
the community s other marriages.
Bowlah says uncomfortable things
about the subjects of her stories,
using unfussy and almost clinical
language that might find a happy
home in journalistic reportage.
Adherents to lush and visually ornate
embellishments in fiction may find
the writer s style bare, or prosaic.
On its face, there is little to distin-
guish one of Bowlah s stories from
the writing produced by an above-
average primary school student. Per-
haps this is the collection s chief
appeal, however: the ability to make
plain that which is best served with-
out literary artifice.
These stories of arranged mar-
riages, of rural and semi-rural village
life, of the explosive discord existing
between parents and their children:
Bowlah commits these truths to the
page without a shred of writer s self-
consciousness. These lives of quiet
desperation, heavily coloured in by
damaging superstitions and resolute
faith, are confidently reported, in
Vashti Bo lah
Vashti Bo lah 1
y o y o
A - o o o o .
If o re ordering o r SAS Book
Cl b books for J l the SAS Book
Cl b ill be reading -
oo o y b Richard C
Morais The H ndred-Foot Jo rne
has been adapted into a film
starring Helen Mirren and
sched led to be released in the US
on A g st
Join the A Boo C gro p on
Facebook to disc ss o o
and the books
o re reading
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