'Equal to Mystery is a splendid book, which rises to a difficult challenge: to deliver an informative, even-handed, yet passionate portrait of an extremely complex man.' Dennis Lee
When, as the editor of a Trinidadian literary journal in the radical years of the early 1970s, Christopher Laird was sent Harold Sonny Ladoo’s novel, No Pain Like This Body (1973) to review, he knew he was looking at something revolutionary in Caribbean fiction. It is a novel that has recently been republished as a Penguin Modern Classic. But the next news Laird heard of Ladoo was that he had returned to Trinidad from Canada and had been found dead – very probably murdered – in the canefields outside his family’s village of McBean. A posthumous novel followed, Yesterdays, a rawer and less artistically shaped novel that combined broad satire of the Canadian Christian missions in Trinidad with an unwavering look at the sometimes sordid nature of peasant village life. For Laird, it became an obsession to try to discover the writer behind these novels and what had brought about his untimely end. Equal to Mystery – words written by Ladoo – is the record of that pursuit. Laird discovers, for instance, that Ladoo’s public version of his biography bore only a tangential relationship to the truth, that his inventiveness as a writer extended to the management of his persona. And while the book cannot solve the mystery of Ladoo’s death, it has much to say about the context and motivations of his return to Trinidad. Laird follows in the path of Ladoo to Canada, where he went to make a name for himself as a writer, and tracks him as a student and young married man through conversations with his widow and other family members. He looks in detail at his relationships with two Canadian writers, Dennis Lee and Peter Such, who supported his work, and in Lee’s case published him. Here there is an acute account of their meetings across the line of race, of the mix of generous contact and elusive flight in their relationship. Above all, with access to Ladoo’s unpublished material -- short stories and fragments of the vast body of fiction he announced he was writing -- Laird offers acute analysis of what is there, honest bafflement about just what Ladoo was up to, with a tragic sense of the talent that was lost through his untimely death. This is illustrated with a generous selection from Ladoo’s unpublished work.
Front cover photograph (contact sheet) by Thomas Graeme Cameron Gibson.