THERE ARE novels that inspire us and novels that haunt us. There are novels that move us both literally and figuratively speaking. I have discovered both extremes in two important and powerful Caribbean novels.
About 40 years ago (as I have often written), I read Miguel Street by the late Trinidadian Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, and I was so moved by that magical place Naipaul wrote about, I left my job as a technical writer at Boeing Commercial Airplane Company in Seattle and flew to Trinidad to see if a place like Miguel Street really existed.
I never lost my love for Naipaul’s Miguel Street, but over time I felt that the novel had kept Trinidadian literature from growing and exploring new horizons. It seemed to me that many aspiring novelists were chasing after another Miguel Street.
Then I discovered the Trinidadian novel that will haunt me forever. Golden Child, by Claire Adam, is the novel I have been waiting to read since Miguel Street. I certainly don’t wish to discount all the great novels that define TT, but what makes this novel special and different is that it is truly an international novel that just happens to be set in Trinidad.
Turn to the inside of the book’s jacket and you will read that “like the Trinidadian landscape itself, Golden Child is both beautiful and unsettling, a resoundingly human story of aspiration, betrayal and love.” It is much more than this.
Adam explores the murky waters of family dynamics. The fragile threads that weave the Deyalsingh family together are all tied to twins, 13-year-olds Paul and Peter. In many ways, Paul, the brilliant one, becomes his twin brother Peter’s protector.
Peter struggles with life and acceptance on every level. His problems stem from his difficult birth. Clearly Peter’s personality can be attributed to physical challenges encountered in his birth, but there are other factors too. The boys’ mother is overprotective; their father tries to be pragmatic, but most of the time he descends into anger and cynicism.
Golden Child is a difficult book to review because so many of the horrific events that shape the book are better left unmentioned and better left for readers to discover. It is not a review that profits from spoilers. Suffice it to say that this is a heart-wrenching, hand-wringing novel that will penetrate every layer of protection and every semblance of fairness you have ever imagined you possess. Nothing is safe or sacred in this novel. It shatters the notion that all children in a family are equally loved.
Everyone fails Peter. Peter, who struggles with every relationship he has in his life, suffers in unspeakable ways, and he doesn’t possess the communication skills to convey his anguish.
Adam presents the Deyalsingh family’s story with exquisite prose. Her imagery is rich; her characters are complex. The Deyalsinghs are people we all seem to know. We can identify with their struggles. Her characters appear every bit as compelling as those in Miguel Street, but the Deyalsinghs have an innocent side often juxtaposed with a dark side that no one in Naipaul’s novel comes close to possessing.
Above all, Golden Child is a novel that captures Trinidad in its present state of conflict and confusion. Violence, irrelevant education, survival – financially and emotionally speaking – permeate Golden Child. Adam’s Trinidad has evolved into a humourless society. This is an honest, raw look at Trinidad, which is so powerful and so painful I could only read this novel in small doses.
In most cases we like to judge a novel by the amount of positive reviews it gets. Interesting enough, the reviews for Golden Child on amazon.com tend to be glowing or scathing. The bad reviews come from people who found it impossible to face a novel that reaches such an unspeakable depth.
In the rollercoaster of emotions that I experienced while reading Golden Child – the pain and desperate hope that it evoked – I kept asking aloud, “How can any writer be this brave?” I kept thinking this is a novel everyone must read. Be forewarned: it will not be an easy journey. To process that which has always been left unsaid takes us all to a new level of understanding, which we must face in order to grow as individuals and as a society.