Oonya Kempadoo
New York: Penguin, 2000
ISBN # 0-452-28099-0
170 pages.

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2005

This is a rich, sensitive, observant and honest first novel by an author of great promise. Lula Ramish, pre-teen daughter of an East Indian couple is growing up in Tamarind Grove, Guyana in the early 1970s.

Her younger sister Sammy hangs out (liming) with Lula and two friends Judy and Rachel Deabro of Portuguese parents. Author Oonya Kempadoo captures beautifully the relatively carefree lives of the young girls and explores their growing curiosity with sex.

But things are not well in Guyana under the rule of President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, and his various national police bands are especially pressuring the Indian community.

In a series of 10 chapters this short novel traces the consciousness of young Lula from normal childhood concerns to a forced growing awareness of the precarious political milieu in which she and her family and friends live.

In one sense the novel is disjointed – ten short chapters, no central plot to organize the whole. At first that troubled me. But author Kempadoo won me over as I realized how true she was to the growing consciousness and growing up (quickly) of Lula.

Lula’s childhood, her normal development of childish play, amazing confrontations with mysterious sexuality, the routine but enjoyment of school, are all interrupted by the violence perpetrated on her neighborhood and eventually on her family. The disconnectedness of it all is so real to her character. The writing itself is visual, sort of a visual naïve sociology with words.

She doesn’t just observe and, as the title suggest, the role of the Buxton spice mango tree outside her window becomes a sort of character in the novel. The tree represents historical continuity and Lula is somehow angry at the tree, sitting there outside her window, constantly peering at her. It will not grant her its wisdom of understand, which Lula is sure it has. It just endures.

This is a wonderful novel, even an exceptional first novel. I have to read more of the voice of Oonya Kempadoo in the future.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu