Butterfly In The Wind

Written by Ruth Pavey for The Observer on

WHETHER with their hibiscus, hurricane, or their history, the Caribbean islands force themselves upon their writers. Not content to be mere settings, they demand an active role. Two novels from a small company specialising in Caribbean literature make this clear. The themes of Lakshmi Persaud’s Butterfly in the Wind and Brenda Flanagan’s You Alone are Dancing, although quite different, share a vital sense of place. It is part physical, part historical. These books could not have been written about anywhere else.

Described as fictionalised autobiography, Butterfly in the Wind starts about 50 years ago, with a naked little girl prancing joyously in a tropical rainstorm. It ends with a young woman on the plane to Europe, wistful for the physical closeness to nature she is leaving. Kamla has grown up in the embrace of the Indian community in Trinidad, the daughter of rural shopkeepers. Though relatively prosperous themselves, examples of poverty and hardship have always been close to hand. Two generations ago her family were indentured labourers. Her grandmother’s message is ‘You should all be working hard at school, be conscientious, and pray that you never become poor. It is hell. It is a living hell I tell you.’

Much of the book is about education as the great voyage out. But what sort of education? To a sensitive, thoughtful Hindu child Catholic and Presbyterian schooling suggests that parroting the ideas of others is safer than trying out one’s own; specially if the latter involve sympathy for the weak. Having steered her way to a. university place in Britain, Kamla is the toast of her family. But the empathy with which Lakshmi Persaud writes of the natural world, and the warmth of her descriptions of Hindu customs, suggest that she learnt more from the place where she grew up, and her family, than from any memorising of the Ten Commandments or singing of D’ye ken John Peel.