Peter Lauchmonen Kempadoo
Guyana Boy is an ‘autobiographical’ novel focusing on the childhood of Lilboy, an Indian boy growing up on a sugar estate in what was then British Guiana. It deals with the contradictions of sugar estate life: its liveliness and closeness of community, but also the restrictions it placed on the opportunities and personal freedom of those who worked there. The estate was still an extremely hierarchical world with European management at its peak and work practices that had changed little from the days of slavery and indenture. The novel charts the areas in which the estate dwellers maintain their own lives - in their rice plots, in fishing and the feasts and festivities that enliven hard working lives. But it also records the way Lilboy’s access even to a limited education takes him on an inexorable path away from the world of his parents. The novel ends with his departure for urban life in Georgetown.
Guyana Boy was first published in 1960 and has long been out of print. It is not only still an immensely readable and enjoyable novel, but significant in that is one of the first Caribbean novels of the ‘people’ to be written by an author who came from the specific world he writes about. It was one of the first Indo-Caribbean novels to be published, with a very different, inward and warmly sympathetic portrayal of the lives of estate workers, a group who appear on the peripheries of VS Naipaul’s novels stereotyped as brutish, threatening or bovinely docile. What is an additional point of interest in Kempadoo’s novel is that it deals with the small South Indian Madrassi community who maintained their own cultural identity within the North Indian derived culture of the Indo-Guyanese as a whole.