The Timehrian
Andrew Jefferson-Miles
ISBN number
Fiction, Novel
Country setting
Publication date
01 Oct 2002

"I narrowly escaped with my life and a fiery tongue of the sun I inadvertently swallowed and which consumed my memory for the next six years."

So writes Leon-Battista Mondaal when he reconstructs the events that have led him to lie, bound as a madman, in Mackenzie marketplace. His narrative moves backwards and forwards in time, to his boyhood and first visionary glimpses; the day he and two thousand souls are swept away in the flood that inundates the Guyanese coastline; and the day when, rescued by Amalivacar, the Amerindian god, he recovers his memory.

At the heart of Mondaal’s narrative lie his relationships with Jacob Laban, the patriarchal leader of the ethnographic team studying the Christmas Eve masquerade at Manchester village, and Elizabeth-Eberhart, the Amerindian aviator and agronomist on the team who, inspired by her memory of a childhood encounter with the River Fairmaid, shares with Mondaal her vision of ‘kinship with species of being other than our own.’

It is the failure of his half-hearted rebellion against Laban that drives Mondaal to write his narrative as an act of restitution, aided by the timehr, the painted child of Amerindian legend, who prompts him to the importance of recovering those whose ‘ways of living are dark-sided in the shadow/composite of history’s giants’.

Poetry, high comedy, science fiction, Amerindian and Celtic myth are woven in this ‘covenant between the biblical, the nation state and the immigrated space’. The Timehrian questions the reality of all monolithic historical lineages, all received framing devices, for as Mondaal asks, challenging Laban’s closed, functional interpretation of the Christmas Eve masquerade, ‘have we not happened upon their gestures mid-way in a larger, unseen composition?’


An Interview with Andrew Jefferson Miles
Stabroek News, Guyana

Andrew Jefferson-Miles... still dreams of Guyana

This is the third in a series of interviews by Kim Lucas with nominees for the 2002 Guyana Prize for Literature. 

""An ambitious and challengingly experimental novel; compellingly thought-provoking.""

These were the sentiments expressed on Andrew Jefferson-Miles' first novel, ‘The Timehrian'. In our continuing series on candidates for the prize, Stabroek News managed to reach the author in Orlando, Florida and via email he shared some of his thoughts with us.

SN: Is this your first nomination for such an accolade? 

Jefferson-Miles: Yes, Kim, `The Timehrian' is my first novel.

SN: Would you describe yourself as fortunate by making the shortlist? 
Jefferson-Miles: An artist feels genuine gratitude when he can encounter a careful and appreciative reading. There is an illustrious roll call of Guyanese authors, both at home and abroad, who stimulate admiration and debate in the academies of Europe and North America. It is a wonderful thing to be associated with such company. 

SN: What can you tell your readers about The Timehrian?

Jefferson-Miles: The title, The Timehrian, comes from the word `Timehri', which people associate with the site of [Guyana's international airport], and also, with Amerindian painting. The word has an Arawak root, covering the meanings: marked with the hand, painted with the hand, and painted with God's hands. The older generation will recall the mural at Timehri airport, painted by Aubrey Williams. In the book, Leon-Battista Mondaal (the fictional writer of `The Timehrian') is the Timehrian's ‘painted-with-all-colours' name. 

The fictional survivor of a freak tidal wave off the Atlantic in 1984 that inundates the East Corentyne Coast villages of Manchester, Liverpool, and Lancaster and carries away the lives of 2000 souls into the sea, Leon-Battista enters a kind of ark in order to survive. It is not a straightforward biblical ark but altogether a much more dangerous, indeterminate thing. He enters a providential ark of deferred rescue. That is to say, Leon-Battista is not rescued straight away. His rescue is brought forward 18 years in the future to 2002, as well as, hooked back 18 years in the past to Independence Year, 1966. He must make a quantum tunnel between both exit points in order to emerge. In doing so, he catches the threads, the breaths, the progenitor of the country. 

`The Angel's Mouthpiece' is the title of the first half of the book and is a fictional visualisation of the Christmas Eve Masquerade that used to be performed in the East Coast villages when my grandmother was a child, and, indeed, my grandmother told me about it and that gave me bedding plane of the novel. 
‘Alamivacar's Exit from the Night Bush’ is the second half of the book. 
Alamivacar is an Amerindian god of art, who comes for Leon-Battista in the night bush; comes to arbitrate his rescue. Thus, there are many kinds of vessels that harbour survival, that make unwritten covenant.

Leon-Battista does an unexpected thing. He has to recover a memory of Guyana, and to do so he goes up-country and lies down in a little house at 74a Government Housing Scheme, Wismar, Demerara. Now this used to be my grandmother's home when I was born. I lived in that house as a child for my first seven years. My grandmother went on to build another house at Wisroc and became a kind of community figure. People used to call her Mother Miller. So there is the contour in the book, of lying down to dream Guyana anew in my grandmother's tiny house, and of being an infant and sitting on the doorstep and staring into the wide, blue heaven. A conductivity exists between the dream of Guyana and the wide open heavens. The sky - the skyscape - is an aspect of the Guyanese imagination that has been less-well explored in fiction than the more readily appreciated landscapes of rainforest, interior, riverways, water catchments, and coastal villages. I wanted to visualize something of the seemingly uniform but equally powerful skyscape and the bearing it has on the imagination. 

The relation of the skyscape to the landscape could offer an analogy of that of the dream to waking life. My own life and art have been guided by dreams of astonishing clarity that conduct an ongoing conversation with my art, on the subject of my art, thus the notable events of my past are almost all dreams - not people, not events, but dreams. My dreams are how I remember my personal past. They are the landmarks of my past. 
As one's ‘conversation’ with the world of dream increases in acuity, so too does the range and scope of one's art; for dream is a mediation with the world and its hidden connectivity. It is an art that goes beyond just intuition, arriving where is arrayed much that is to marvel at. 

SN: Who is Andrew Jefferson-Miles and what are some of your other works? (Here, the author also touches on the debate about local writers versus expatriates who often win the Prize.) 

Jefferson-Miles: It is not helpful to generalise. Every individual experience is particular and does not compare. For instance, I left Guyana at the age of 9 to join my family abroad; firstly in Canada, then in England. After school I continued my preparation as an artist in Paris. I began an apprenticeship in the dramatic arts of playwrighting, and the production of opera. These eventually cohered into poetry, an art I had always studied in parallel, and which, on retrospect, I now recognize to be my first ground. Jeremy Poynting at Peepal Tree Press published a book of poetry ‘Art of Navigation’, and the novel under discussion, ‘The Timehrian’. 

Artistically, for me, 1999 has emerged as a significant year. As well as being the year in which I became a published poet, 1999 was also the year I became a painter. In just three years, I have enjoyed eight exhibitions of my art in London. In 2002 I had the great fortunate of being invited to present and show my art at the Tate Modern. 
My own experience is that Guyanese writers abroad speak with immense pride about their country and their fellow artists. They speak as if the artists were all in one big room and we are just turning around to point to this one or that one. 

SN: How much do you think a nation depends on its literature? 

Jefferson-Miles: A nation's literature enables it to think about itself in its own particular way without having to borrow or take out loans for the words and expressions of other nations. In Latin America, upon the geographical backbone of the continent, in Guatemala, Peru, Chile, poets are the culture's heroes. People elect them to the highest offices of state. 

There is the belief that such people can be trusted. History shows that such trust is, on the whole, well founded.

A poet's words are won hard in the teeth of scorn, neglect, and ridicule. If people take a poet's words to heart, it is because such words prevail in a doubtful climate. In order to be taken to heart, such words have had to `keep their word'. I would like to see Guyana trust its poetic heart; trust its great imaginative gift; find its joy in that gift, for it is exactly in her imaginative life that Guyana proves herself foremost of almost any other people on the globe.


Andrew Jefferson-Miles

Andrew Jefferson-Miles is a poet and painter. Andrew's publications include The Esplumeoir (poetry, Journal of Caribbean Literatures, 2001), Art of Navigation (poetry, Peepal Tree Press 2003), The Timehrian (novel, Peepal Tree Press 2002).
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