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The Last English Plantation

Written by Quintin Bradley for Leeds Other Paper on no date provided

GUYANESE authors published by the Leeds-based Peepal Tree Press this week highlight the political crisis that threatens the Caribbean country. The work of Jan Shinebourne and Arnold Itwaru traces the roots of the wave of strikes presently shaking Guyana. 

Peepal Tree Press operates out of a garage in west Leeds, publishing works that reflect on Black British experience and particularly the situation in Guyana. Its new books, Last English Plantation and Shanti, reveal troubled history of Guyana’s political struggle, the workers’ movement and the ruthlessness of the state. Jeremy Poynting, who runs the Leeds publishing house, said 'These books deal with the roots of the continuing struggle, a past that continues into Guyana’s present.' A four week old strike has paralyzed the sugar and bauxite industries in Guyana in protest at the crippling currency devaluation imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Wages have been pegged below poverty levels. A servant’s wages of £6 a month compares with the cost of a bag of rice at £9.

In Last English Plantation, written by Guyana-born Jan Shinebourne - a strike on the sugar estate, is broken by the armed intervention of the police and British troops. The theme of Shanti, by Arnold Itwaru, is the racial division between the people of African and of south Asian descent who make up the population of Guyana. This conflict has been used by the ruling Afro-Guyanese party to divide opposition. Divide and rule tactics stirred up race riots in the 1960s. In 1980 the leader of the working People’s Alliance, Walter Rodney, was murdered in a car bomb attack. Under his guidance, the opposition had united Guyanese society across the racial divide. The increasingly authoritarian and corrupt Burnham regime was clearly implicated in the murder.
From its base in Leeds, Peepal Tree Press has published nine books dealing with Caribbean life. Because of conditions in Guyana particularly the high cost of materials, Jeremy Poynting exports the work of the island back to itself, often selling the books at a loss. The publishing house turns out high quality work that spotlights the situation of the working class, both in the Caribbean and by comparison, in Britain.

This is a review of The Last English Plantation

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