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A Day in the Country

Written by Chris Searle for Liberation on no date provided

A huge gulf of cultural experience separates the two Trinidadian writers Ian McDonald and Ismith Khan. Whereas McDonald, a white man, knew privilege, comfort and Cambridge (where he captained the University lawn tennis team) Khan’s Muslim grandfather was a militant rebel shot down by the colonial authorities in 1884, and Khan, himself, grew up in a house opposite Woodford Square, known as the ‘university’ of independence, agitations and speech-making.

Khan’s A Day in the Country also has a strong theme of childhood - boyhood in particular. His descriptions of a prodigious young fast bowler playing cricket in Woodford Square portray another side of the Caribbean cultural dynamic: ‘He turned and his feet slapped at the turf moving him along like a feather; his long thin body arched like a bow, the ball swung high in the air, his waist turned in, and he delivered the shooting red ball that turned pink as it raced to the batsman.’ The grace and the power are there - Michael Holding and Curtley Ambrose are in the mind, but so is the other side as the boy returns home to his father - fresh from earning three dollars a day at the US naval base.

There is an archetypal story of the colonised schoolboy who listens to the ‘smart man’ teacher and learns to turn aside from his community - ‘de teacher say we have to forget everyt’ing we learn at home, an’ learn only what he say.’ Thus Khan characterises colonial education in one alienated sentence, during a time when sugar estates were giving way to oil production and ‘the man who swung a cutlass at sugarcane tops yesterday, pushes the buttons... to guide and dock titanic oil tankers into shallow bays today.’

These are stories of transition, brilliantly realised without nostalgia, but still with a sense of elegaic truth. For the youth speak out unsentimentally in the migration of labour: ‘No more small island for me. Soon, soon, soon as I grow up I leavin’… leavin’ for good.’

This is a review of A Day in the Country

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