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Review of The Last English Plantation

Written by Simon Andrewes for reader reviews on Friday, October 23, 2015

This novel is a densely packed and intense portrayal of turmoil, at a personal and socio-political level, in the run-up to national independence, achieved finally in 1966 but at a too high cost to the political fabric and the people of Guyana.

In the early 1960s, what was then British Guiana was rocked by wave after wave of labour unrest accompanied by ugly racially fuelled disturbances as the democratically elected government of Cheddi Jagan suffered systematic undermining at the hands of his political opponents, ably aided and abetted by the British Colonial Office which finally contrived to have the troops rushed in to ‘restore order’ - and prevent the continuity of the Jagan-led ‘revolution’ after the 1964 elections.

The author, Jan Shinebourne, lived through this turmoil as a child and her novel, written nearly a quarter of a century after the events, gives an extraordinarily vivid, authentic and compelling account of the mounting social tensions of those turbulent times.

But at the heart of the novel is the personal turmoil of her main character, June Lehall, who has been awarded a scholarship to attend a ‘posh’ secondary school in a nearby town. Her mother sees it as a chance for her daughter to escape the poverty and deprivation and limited horizons of the class she was born into. June, whose young receptive mind is impervious to petty distinctions of class and race, does not want to be wrenched away from the community of the oppressed with which she feels strong bonds of solidarity.

With the stifling of the Jagan ‘revolution’, we now know that flight was June’s only option.

This is a review of The Last English Plantation

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