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Written by Bhoe Tewarie for Trinidad Sunday Guardian on no date provided

Sastra, by Lakshmi Persaud, is a beautiful, moving and inspiring novel created by a gifted, sensitive and intelligent writer. It follows the life of a woman struggling to find her own wings to fly from birth, through schooling, university education abroad, marriage, motherhood, widowhood and self sufficiency as single parent.

It is a novel about love; intense love which crashes the boundaries of conventional reason. It is a novel of pain and loss and anguish which threaten to crush the human spirit. It is a novel of human courage and sacrifice. It is a novel of change and of coming to grips with the relentless inevitability of change. It is a novel of beauty and the terror of life itself. It is a novel which celebrates the triumph of the individual human will.

The novel juxtaposes complex contending opposites such as fate and free will; tradition and modernity; love and duty; prophesy and probability; community and individual; security and risk; reason and passion; now and tomorrow; the past and the future. In my view, this a remarkable second book for any author. It reflects significant growth between the author’s first work Butterfly In the Wind and this work Sastra, published three years apart. More fundamentally, however, this second work Sastra, reveals an artistic control and maturity which is seldom found in the early novels of creative writer. This is a mature piece of fiction which is certain to withstand the passage of time or the limitations of setting. In one sense, it can be argued that the novel explores one woman’s pain of growing and becoming and her eventual triumph in becoming an individual capable of facing life’s challenges on her own, fully in charge of her own destiny, even as the world around her is one of change, turmoil, uncertainty and unpredictability.

Lakshmi Persaud’s first work of autobiographical fiction about a young girl’s growing up amidst a whirl of influence in a largely Indian village in colonial Trinidad ends in 1956. This novel begins in
1957. In that first work, young Kamla was a butterfly in the wind; a bright sensitive child tossed about by various forces so to speak, trying to find her foot, seeking to make sense of the world about her and attempting to anchor herself in it. As Butterfly In the Wind ends, the narrator, Kamla, shares her thoughts with the reader as she begins an airborne journey to university abroad. ‘As I became more at ease, thousands of feet high, scenes of my childhood appeared before me and I began to wonder which persons, what situations, what combination of things, of place and time, had come together and made me what I was.’

In the novel Sastra, the protagonist Sastra does not think such thoughts but the novel itself is an unfolding revelation of the combination of persons, things and situations which eventually make Sastra into the person that she becomes. What she becomes however is a consequence, not of the decisions of others, but the conscious life choice which she makes. At the end of the novel, she reflects: ‘Each choice carried its own cost’ (p.272) but in spite of the cost, Sastra ‘could not envisage being without the choice’ (p.272). These thoughts she expresses to us in the novel as ‘she sensed a peace, a strength growing within her.’ Sastra is no butterfly adrift in the wind. She is a bird who has learnt to fly and only the power of her will and the strength of her own wings will determine where she will venture and how high she will soar.

This is an uplifting novel for anyone, but it will no doubt have a special appeal for women readers. The book is slow to grow on the reader, probably because the author spends so much time and care preparing the ground, establishing the context. And the novel is lofty. Every character’s perspective of the world, of life, is presented from his/her point of view. The narrative voice is sympathetic, understanding; never judgemental, as if to say, life can be seen from different perspectives and it is our responsibility as human beings to try to understand each perspective, even if we do not agree with it. Every character is conceded their dignity; even custom is seen through sympathetic eyes.

But the job of a novelist is not to preach, nor is the novelist at his or her best as a sociologist or anthropologist or social commentator. And while the novel is about Hindu traditions, the Indian community, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society caught in the throes of change, this is not really the strength or the power of the novel. If the job of the novelist is to explore the inner world of individual human beings caught up in their problems, dilemmas, traumas and anxieties, then Lakshmi Persaud has done a marvellous job and it is in the exploration of the workings of the mind of the major character that and the probing of the feelings of these characters that the novel derives its intensity and power.

This is a review of Sastra

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