Friday, June 26, 2015

Love After Love

House of Waiting by Marina Tamar Budhos

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger that was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photograph, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

                                Derek Walcott

One could vacation for years in the Caribbean without ever tapping its wealth. For all of its sad and violent history, by which I mean the European destruction of its native peoples and the subsequent scourges of the slave, sugar, and drug trades, the region, best known in the U.S. for its reggae, cruise ships, and Club Med, boasts an extraordinary number of fine, even world-class writers—novelists, poets, philosophers, and historians like George Lamming, V.S. Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Jean Rhys, Franz Fanon, José Martí, C.L.R. James, Paula Marshall, Aimé Césaire, Roy Heath, Kamau Brathwaite, Claude McKay, Jamaica Kincaid, Maryse Condé, Simone Schwarz-Bart, Beryl Gilroy, Velma Pollard, Olive Senior, Earl Lovelace, Samuel Selvon, Patrick Chamoiseau, Rosario Ferré, Julia Alvarez, Patricia Powell, Caryl Phillips, Edwidge Dandicat, and, of course, the 1992 Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott.

House of Waiting, set in the early 1950's in New York City and in pre-independence British Guiana, tells the refreshingly unusual story of the tumultuous if finally redemptive relationship and marriage between a Jewish Orthodox New Yorker named Sarah Weissberg and an Indo-Caribbean man named Roland Singh who has fled his greater family and its desperation in colonial Guiana to try to make a life for himself in the U.S., only to return to his native land to take part in its long struggle for independence. 

Guiana or Guyana, meaning 'the land of many waters', was first colonized by the Dutch in the early 1600's and finally seized by the British in 1831 to where they imported thousands of slaves from western Africa to work their highly profitable sugar plantations as a means of meeting the ever-growing European demand for sweets.  With the British abolition of slavery the sugar industry collapsed, though it was eventually replaced by the mining and distribution of the still more profitable resources of diamonds, bauxite, and gold. While blacks suffered miserably under British rule, so too did the sizeable community of East Indians or Arya Hindavi (the People of Hind), recruited en masse from British India as indentured laborers in the wake of the abolition of slavery to work on the failing sugar plantations. While the sugar industry had all but completely collapsed by the time in which this novel is set, it is against this background of colonial greed and exploitation, that the bitter struggle for independence is being waged when narrator and protagonist, Sarah Weissberg's husband, Roland Singh, leaves her in New York to return to Guiana in order to join the radical PPP, the People's Progressive Party, under the populist and charismatic leadership of Cheddi Jagan. 
Unfortunately, as history would tell, the dream was very short-lived. When Jagan and his party won the right to govern and quickly advocated a program for the radical redistribution of the nation's wealth, entailing first and foremost the immediate seizure of the highly exploitative sugar industry, the British government (in league with the CIA) dispatched warships and 700 troops to overthrow the new government under the bogus pretext that they were acting against "part of the international communist conspiracy". 

While simply learning about this—about Guiana, about its Indian community, about its valiant, ultimately successful struggle for independence from the British—would be reason enough to read this short novel, the story itself, an intimate, deeply personal one, makes it especially worthwhile. As you might have guessed, the novel ends with the still-innocent, now pregnant Sarah traveling on her own to Guiana, to Georgetown, to save her marriage and to finally discover the truth about her husband's troubled, if significant past.   

Marina Tamar Budhos, the daughter of an Indo-Guyanese father and a Jewish American mother, was born in Queens, N.Y.  Author, journalist, and educator, she has written two novels, House of Waiting and The Professor of Light.

Peter Adam Nash

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