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The Ghost of Bellow's Man

Written by Peter Nazareth for World Literature Today on no date provided

Sasenarine Persaud is a novelist from Guyana living in Canada whose previous works are Dear Death (1989) and a volume of poetry, Demerary Telepathy (1988). Raju, the protagonist of The Ghost of Bellow’s Man, seeks to tell the story of his people, the Hindus of Guyana: ‘Nobody had written about the REAL Hinduism. The people who had written, had never LIVED Hinduism. When they wrote it was to satisfy a basically Western Christian audience and so serious things had been made laughable to gain acceptance in that market. He would write the truth regardless of the kind of response it might provoke. / Naipaul! He was accepted as the authority on Indians and Hindus in the West Indies when he did not know! How could he, when he had lived all his adult life outside the Caribbean. Hinduism was an experience, a continuous living experience and even one lifetime was inadequate to comment on it.’

A Hindu activist and novelist-in-progress, Raj is a teacher with a weakness for schoolgirls. He finds himself living in a multiracial world, which he realizes he tends to stereotype, and experiencing the political violence of neocolonial Guyana directed chiefly against his people. Is his concern with Hinduism a help or a hindrance to understanding the wider world? Persaud is drawing on the Advaita school of the Vedanta - i.e., the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I,’ ‘duality’ and ‘beyond-duality.’ Raj begins speaking in the first person and then slips into the third person, because the ‘I’ sees the ‘he’ of the ego as a moving away from ‘self.’ Toward the end of the novel ‘he’ becomes ‘I’ again, but with some knowledge of the self and beyond.

The action takes place on several planes: outward events of Guyana, the attempt to write about and shape them in a novel, Raj’s desire for transformation, then his recognition that to change the outer world he must change himself. ‘I re-read what I have written so far of the novel and wonder if I wrote any of it and if I did, why I did. Slowly it is dawning on me that everything in the novel is connected to my own inner world, and that I need a greater awareness of the relationship of the inner to the outer. Now I am on the circumference of the cycle of existence and having gone round and round and round, I know I have to find my own line, my own radius to the centre.’

Despite the crossing of the black water, the Hindus brought an old way of seeing the world to the Caribbean, Persaud is suggesting. But isn’t the ‘novel’ by definition new? ‘He had begun to feel like a ghost, someone without real existence, condemned to follow a repetitive cycle of meaningless daily actions. But ghosts could be uncomfortable presences too, consciences reminding the world of its misdeeds and cruelties until some act of justice allowed their troubled spirits to rest in peace. Maybe as a writer he would always be like a ghost, rattling the chains, trying to get the attention of a heedless world. Henderson was making rain in Africa, just like Raju, the corrupt tourist guide in India. Droughts call for rain.’ The references are to the novels Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow and The Guide by R. K. Narayan, but the novel takes its title from the American, not the Indian Hindu. Transformation is possible; the cycle can become a spiral. The novel ends with hope: soon it will rain, a colorless rain. The reader of Dear Death had to look to the underlying Hindu Structure for clues. This time most of the clues are within the text, since The Ghost of Bellow’s Man seeks to embrace and transform the world.

This is a review of The Ghost of Bellow's Man

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