Guyanese-British Kempadoo’s third novel (Tide Running, 2003, etc.) again takes on the socioeconomic complexity of the Caribbean, this time in Trinidad as a multiracial group cares for a friend dying of AIDS.
A fluid sense of time and Kempadoo’s mix of native patois and feverishly descriptive prose creates an almost hallucinogenic atmosphere to fill out the skeletal story of Trinidadian architect Fraser’s last days. Before his diagnosis, Fraser was already the center of a multicultural, multiracial circle of educated, artistic types. The son of middle-class Trinidadians, educated at Cambridge and gay, Frazier is a confusion of mixed allegiances, and during the lively parties he throws at the beautiful home he designed, his own conversation shifts in a heartbeat from local slang to proper British. But after he collapses from renal failure and discovers he has full-blown AIDS, his friends surround him: his tough but devoted houseboy, his lovers, his elegant and sexy women friends, the Catholic priest with whom he sparred over a building project, his furiously proper mother and browbeaten father, the working-class cab driver who suffered his own catastrophic loss when his Indian girlfriend was murdered. In particular, there is the Caribbean artist Ata, whose conflicted consciousness lightly weaves together the fragmented plot. Ata lives with Fraser’s friend Pierre, a French U.N. bureaucrat, and Fraser’s illness exposes cracks in the couple’s relationship. Like Fraser, Ata finds herself torn between her identity as a Caribbean and her embrace of Pierre’s European sophistication. Despite its intense sensuality, this is a novel more of ideas than emotions. How to balance the corruption and the creativity that define Trinidad and its vibrant but disturbingly violent boomtown capital, Port of Spain? How to balance European logic against the less rational, even magical power of the island? How to move past the history of political domination? How to live fully in the moment yet think clearly? How to communicate to anyone outside oneself? “How to live with the ugliness of the beauty we love?”
Kempadoo’s sensuous language and tangled storytelling veer between hypnotic and incomprehensible.