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In Praise of Love and Children

Written by Phyliss Briggs-Emanuel for The Caribbean Writer on no date provided

In Praise of Love and Children is a West Indian odyssey which Gilroy uses to examine relationships within and outside the family. It also chronicles the protagonist’s journey through life in Guyana and London as well as her quest for self. Her journey takes her to London, to Paris, back home to Guyana, to London again, and to the United States. To a certain extent, Melda’s search is determined by her unusual position within her family. In order to understand why her mother treats her so terribly, Melda must discover who she is. The answer is not perhaps surprising to the Caribbean reader, who in all probability is used to the philandering ways of men, although Melda’s father does not truly wander outside of the family to find his 'other' woman, and the woman that she knows as 'mother' is, in fact, her aunt. The misery inflicted on the young girl by this frustrated, bitter woman is mitigated by her father’s love and her siblings’ acceptance and support, particularly from her brother, Arnie.

Melda’s sojourn to London is in keeping with the aspirations of generations of Caribbean persons who for decades have left the region to go to the 'mother' country, in this case, Britain, seeking to 'better' their lives and to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In Melda’s case the search for a better life also embodies the search for self. She is sustained in her search by the wisdom and philosophy of her teacher Mrs. Jocasta Penn who plays a pivotal role in the young woman’s life as so many Caribbean teachers have done in the lives of their students. It is the lessons she has learned from Mrs. Penn which will aid Melda in dealing with her mother’s dislike and ensuing insanity. These lessons will encourage her to first teach and then to become a social worker in London.
In addition, Melda has to learn that love of self begins with love of others, and perhaps the greatest discovery that she makes is that color or lack of it does not truly define a person. For her, perhaps the major step in finding herself is her acknowledgment that she must accept her brother’s German wife, Trudi.

All of the major Caribbean themes are present in this novel: the traditional extended family which, despite the dysfunction of certain members, remains the support of the individual; the 'outside' child; education as a means of social mobility; migration for 'betterment of self'; isolation, exile, alienation, interracial marriage, etc. Gilroy demonstrates her artistic ability to control the thematic threads and to direct their weaving into a satisfying whole. The questing Melda eventually comes into her own and is reconciled with herself, her family, and even blonde, blue-eyed Trudi who proves to be not so different after all.

This is a review of In Praise of Love and Children

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