Blue China Press, London (November 2013)
Reviewed by Carolyn Burns Bass
Read the archived chatscript of the February 19, 2014 #litchat conversation with Ingrid Persaud here.
One of the most rewarding aspects of editing LitChat is discovering new authors not readily available in local bookstores or libraries. Not that these writers haven’t been discovered already, for certainly most of them have agents, editors and publishers who have already staked their name and reputation on them. Some of these authors have been overlooked by legacy publishers and have taken their career into their own hands by publishing their own work, either through establishment of their own press, or using one of the established independent routes. For every hundred self- and indie-published novels we’re pitched, one of them rises to the top and is selected for a #litchat discussion book or review. Ingrid Persaud’s If I Never Went Home is both.
Set between Trinidad and Boston, If I Never Went Home, explores themes both universal and regional through the eyes of two Trinidadian women, 29-year-old Bea and 9-year-old Tina.
Set between Trinidad and Boston, If I Never Went Home, explores themes both universal and regional through the eyes of two Trinidadian women, 29-year-old Bea and 9-year-old Tina. Fleeing Trinidad for an American education, Bea has survived a childhood of neglect by her harsh, self-centered mother and abandonment by her play-around father.
Tina’s nurturing mother dies when she’s nine, taking the identity of Tina’s father to the grave. Left with a fanatically religious grandmother who hasn’t the energy or the will to nurture the strong-willed Tina, it’s not long before the girl spins out of control.
Over in Boston, Bea is spinning out of control, too. She’s spent more than ten years perfecting her English diction, getting a PhD in history and obtaining a professorship at a prestigious university. When the hard shell she’s developed through her reinvention begins to crack, her therapist worries she’s a danger to herself and has her wheeled away by the men in the white suits. Persaud pens this period of Bea’s life with great detail, contrasting the greatest taboo in all of Trinidadian culture—mental illness—with feelings of self-betrayal as suffered universally.
Tina, whose young voice bubbles off the page with authentic Caribbean patois, reveals the aching of a fatherless daughter through the ten-year stretch of her interlaced story. Like many abandoned children, she imagines the father she never knew as a heroic deliverer who would show up one day and take her into an enlightened world. She never surrenders the fantasy, even when she enters a sexual relationship with a man old enough to be her father.
Bea’s story progresses through flashbacks of her childhood in Trinidad, early idolization of her father, her neglectful mother, betrayed relationships, and her journey to wellness. Tina’s story alternates with Bea’s story, seasoning the narrative with colorful Caribbean characters both likeable and pathetic. How these two women intersect at the end is foreshadowed for a satisfying conclusion, yet still ambiguous enough to leave readers wondering.
A writer and artist, Ingrid Persaud came to writing and fine art having first pursued a successful legal career that included teaching and scholarship at the Fletcher School of Law and King’s College London. Her creative work has been widely exhibited and her writing featured in several magazines. She was born in Trinidad and calls both Barbados and London home. Her household includes twin boys, Rosie the rescue dog and Jack the unbiddable Jack Russell. If I Never Went Home is her first novel.
Follow Ingrid Persaud on Twitter: @IngridPersaud.
Carolyn Burns Bass is editor of LitChat. See her complete bio here.