Dear Death

Written by Jennifer von Buchstab for Scotiabanker on

He has been described by critics as ‘the most important Indo-Caribbean writer of his generation,’ a writer highly ‘likely to emerge as a leading regional author of the 1990s.’ He’s a young man who is serious about his craft and has to his credit a novel and a collection of poems, both published in the United Kingdom. A second novel and another collection of poetry are due to be published in England shortly.

In March this year, he was a guest author at Toronto’s Harbourfront Reading Series, a popular forum for Canadian and international writers. Who is he?

Scotiabanker Sasenarine Persaud. When he’s not immersed in literary pursuits, Sasenarine works at the Westbury Hotel branch in Toronto as a Customer Service Representative. His fascination with literature developed at high school in his native Guyana. ‘My love of literature had always been there, as far back as I can remember. I became more conscious of it at college. Finally, I knew I wanted to be a writer,’ says Sasenarine.

Getting his first novel into print, however, was a ‘long, hard and difficult’ process, relates Sasenarine. After spending three frustrating years with one British publisher and with nothing to show for it, he eventually changed publishers. Dear Death was finally published in 1989 by Peepal Tree Press of England, the company which had released Demerary Telepathy, his first collection of poetry, a year earlier.

In Dear Death, Dalip, a young Indo-Guyanese man, is faced with the deaths of several people close to him. This causes him to reflect on his life and the people who influenced him. The book captures the subtleties, frustrations and joys of growing up a member of Guyana’s Hindu minority.

How does it feel to be a published novelist and poet? ‘It’s exciting. Despite all the frustrations, I look back on it and feel good about it,’ Sasenarine says. A third novel, A Kinder Lake, which is set partly in Toronto, is currently under consideration by the Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart. ‘The editor said she likes it,’ says Sasenarine, ‘but because of economic cutbacks they’re not taking anything too dicey right now. A Kinder Lake is an artistic novel.’ A safer bet for McClelland & Stewart, says Sasenarine, is what he calls ‘a good read,’ a novel with more mass appeal. So he is prepared for another long wait before he sees his latest novel in print. In the meantime, he’s busy raising his profile in literary circles. Participation at the Harbourfront Reading Series was a significant step towards wider recognition. His reading elicited several questions and comments from the near sell-out audience and afterwards a number of people expressed interest in his work and had him autograph copies of his books. Shortly after the Harbourfront reading, Sasenarine was interviewed by Toronto Star ‘books’ columnist, Philip Marchand. Sasenarine is hopeful the two-hour interview will result in a review of his work in the Star.

His work continues to attract the attention of critics and university professors of literature in Canada, the United States, and at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Jamaica. In a review of Dear Death, West Indian critic Arnold Harrichand Itwaru wrote: ‘In this work the lives of the uncelebrated, the laboring Indo-Guyanese people, are depicted with an understanding that comes from within, and with respect.’

‘A writer who belongs to and identifies with the culture, tradition and world of which he writes, brings to his writing an empathy and a sensitivity vastly different from another writer who is not a part of the culture,’ Sasenarine told his Harbourfront audience.

How does he balance his dual roles of author/customer service representative? ‘I enjoy the customer contact working at the Bank,’ he says, adding that because of the branch’s location, he meets many interesting customers - both from the hotel and the nearby CBC studios. ‘But, of course, I also enjoy my writing.’