Harold is celebrating the victory of the political party he supports whilst confronting a sense of his own powerlessness; Jacob has been sent back to Guyana from Britain after suffering a mental breakdown; Chuni, a worker at the university, is confused by the climate of revolutionary sloganizing which masks the true situation: the rise of a new middle class, elevated by their loyalty to the ruling party. This class, as the maid, Vera, recognises, are simply the old masters with new Black faces.
The stories in the second half of the collection echo the experience of many thousands who fled from the political repression, corruption and social collapse of the 70s and 80s. The awareness of the characters is shot through with Guyanese images, voices and unanswered questions. It is through these that their new experiences of Britain and North America are filtered. One character lies in a hospital in London fighting for her life, but hears the voices of her childhood in Guyana – her mother, African Miss K, the East Indian pandit and the English Anglican priest. Once again, they ‘war for the role of guide in her life’. In ‘The Godmother’ and ‘Hopscotch’, childhood friends reunite in London. Two have stayed in Guyana, while one has settled in London. The warmth of shared memories and cold feelings of betrayal, difference and loss vie for dominance in their interactions.
These stories crystallize the shifts in Guyana’s uncomfortable fortunes in the post-colonial period, and while they are exact and unsparing in their truth-telling, there are always layers of complexity that work through their realistic surfaces: a sensitivity to psychological undertones, the evocative power of memory and a poetic sense of the Guyanese physical space.
Jan Lowe Shinebourne was born in Guyana and now lives in Sussex, U.K. She has published four novels and a collection of short stories.