‐ Home of the Best in Caribbean & Black British Writing ‐

For The Love Of My Name

Written by John Mair for www.landofsixpeoples.com on no date provided

She is a paradox; she has lanced, in fiction, the great boil of recent Guyanese history yet she is not Guyanese. She writes beautifully about the Caribbean and is now viewed as a major West Indian writer yet she lives in Mill Hill, London. She is Lakshmi Persaud and her work increasingly is attracting serious consideration. 

Whether we like it or not, the presence of Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham towers over Guyana's post independence era like a massive shadow; some good and too much evil. He shaped Guyana in his images and brought to it the state and it to the current state. In life, few had the courage (or foolhardiness) to tackle him, in death he still instils awe and fear in equal measure. Serious authors shy away from this very serious subject. 

Lakshmi Persaud's latest book For the Love of my Name (Peepal Tree Press Third Impression 2001) does no such thing; it fictionalises and satirises the Burnham years very elegantly. Guyana is thinly disguised as an island called Maya and LFS as a dictator called Augustus Devonish. Many of the horrific events in the story bear an uncanny resemblance to the 'reality' under Burnham, many of the fictional characters drawn seem oddly familiar. 

Is Lionel Gomes just Peter d'Aguiar in a mask? Is the main town in the novel 'Ica' just Linden (who but a dictator would name a community after himself) in disguise? The story is all very cleverly told through a variety of eye witnesses including Burnham/Devonish's maid. 

She actually spoke to one. Her research has been thorough and wide, her contacts drawn from all sides of the Guyana divide. High, low, black, brown, yellow, white. ""I was helped by many courageous Guyanese of all races, religions and political affinities inside and outside the country,"" she now says. 

But it is not all third hand. Some of it was based on her personal experience when living in Guyana with the family of her husband in the cauldron of the 1960's when ""to have the same type of hair as Dr Jagan meant you were treated with suspicion. This ugliness, like the smoke of the fires, was spreading everywhere. It was everywhere, at times covertly but so overburdened was the atmosphere in favour of gut racism that people quite soon saw there was no need to be discreet."" 

For the Love of my Name is a tour de force and possesses a universality outside of itself. The author recognises this: 

""Although the landscape and to some extent the plot of For the Love of My Name reflects a particular place, what drives the novel is to be found in varying intensities wherever men have taken absolute power, captured it or seduced the unwary or naive to give it to them; it is psychologically true and emotionally true all the time."" 

Perhaps it needed an outsider to hold up a cracked mirror to Guyana and its recent history which far too many would deny. Perhaps only someone relatively untarnished by the political and ethnic brushes of 'Maya' can get beneath the skin to tell the tale. Perhaps. She tackles the unmentionable. Societies which have been deformed and then reformed all benefit from collective psycho analysis of what went wrong and how to stop history repeating itself. The Germans after the fall of Hitler, the Russians once Krushchev brought Stalin's many crimes to light, the Afghanis post-Taliban today. Yet, in Guyana, the Burnham era is too frequently brushed under the national carpet. Out of sight, out of mind. 

Lakshmi Persaud lays some of the blame on what she calls the ""AUL's - Assorted University Luminaries"" for legitimising Devonish/Burnham and his authoritarian regime. Some of those very same 'AULs' are still alive today, still seeing life through their party prism. 

Both major political parties have their agenda on the 'Devonish' years; the PPP using (some say over using) the Burnham ogre to whip their natural supporters into line and to keep themselves morally pure and the PNC mainly looking back on the Burnham years with blinkers. Few have had the courage of young politicians like Raphael Trotman who last year called for some form of apology for the Burnhamite distortions by the PNC. He was quickly slapped down by in Persaud's term the AULs and Party 'Mask men.' Old habits die hard. 

For the Love of my Name should lead to a catharsis in Guyana. Generate much debate. Generate much heat and much light. The new generations need to know what their parents and grandparents lived through good and bad. Only by seeking to understand the past do we build a bright future. 

The author says of her work: ""The pivot of my writing is about change - change in beliefs, perceptions, and direction that the twentieth and now the twenty-first century have brought."" 

But these insights come from a Trinidadian, albeit one married into a Guyanese family hailing from Cumberland in Berbice. She tells of her first impressions of her new-found land in 1962. ""As I crossed the Berbice River... and much later the Essequibo with its islands, my imagination told me 'This is your Ganges, your Amazon, your Nile.' After all in Trinidad when an aircraft leaves the runway we see the east coast for a minute and that's it sister. It leaves us... There is no space nor time for a lingering whisper of goodbye."" 

Her lasting image and the metaphor she uses throughout her latest work is that of the Georgetown sea wall. An architectural and engineering feat inherited from the past which allows the country to exist. 

Lakshmi has come late to published novel writing after life as an academic and diplomat's life, a teacher at Queen's and Harrison Colleges and raising a family of super achievers. Like so many debutantes, her first novel Butterfly in the Wind, 1990, was largely autobiographical about a young East Indian girl growing up in Trinidad, i.e. the young Lakshmi. Her second novel Sastra, a love story, was published in 1993. For the Love of My Name six years later. But still she is getting used to the craft: ""Writing is a lonely occupation. I happen to like solitude, as distinct from loneliness, and this helps,"" but young writers should not be discouraged from taking it up because of this. 

""If you grow up observing what is before you with care, making impressions of everything on paper, all you have written may become useful later, but if they don't there is no loss for you were training to become a writer... Be compassionate but also be honest and write with integrity always."" 

Today she is hard at work on her fourth novel. She is being very coy about the subject matter of this one.

This is a review of For The Love Of My Name

View this book
‐ Home of the Best in Caribbean & Black British Writing ‐