From Publishers Weekly
Narpat is his Trinidadian village's scolding iconoclast and most vocal critic—a sort of King Lear of the sugarcane fields. He scorns his neighbors for their rum drinking, laziness, bad diet and use of electricity. Year upon year, his overworked wife, three daughters and one son, Jeeves, form a captive audience in this bittersweet and affectionate portrait spanning two decades. Age 55 by the time Jeeves is born in 1961 (a year before Trinidad's independence), within a few years Narpat runs for county councilor on a "futurist" platform and a promise to settle his fellow farmers' dispute with the local landowner. Meanwhile, Jeeves attends school, where variously incompetent and abusive teachers drone in stark contrast to Narpat and his practical autodidact's wisdom. As Jeeves watches his father's influence radiate beyond the family's ramshackle house, he has to decide how he will orient himself to his father's life and leanings. Born in Trinidad, Maharaj has published two previous novels in Canada, where he lives; this is his U.S. debut. Comparison to V.S. Naipaul's Indian-Trinidadian oedipal fiction will be inevitable, and Maharaj lacks Naipaul's acidic bite—probably intentionally. But he does have Naipaul's sense of grand scale in a small place, one that comes through on every page.
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Born in Trinidad, Maharaj portrays the life of one family living in Lengua, a "small, impoverished cane-farming village," in the years leading up to Trinidad's independence. Lengua is isolated and bereft of government-sponsored amenities, and most of the villagers have adopted a "comforting fatalism" about their lot in life. But not Narpat, the family's patriarch, who disparages those who have left their land for the cities, or turned to the rum shops for solace. Narpat raises his and his wife Dulari's four children according to a strict and unbending moral code--no Santa Claus, no school bazaars, no sweets or unnecessary school supplies, no frivolous clothing--and teaches them that "you must fight hard for everything you want." When Narpat runs for county councillor in the 1962 elections, his campaign promise is "to wipe out prejudice, superstition, laziness, jealousy, and . . . gossip." He wins, and in later years sees his children succeed, but the price of the loss of their love is too high. Maharaj's insightful saga ponders what Narpat gave up to maintain his high moral code. Deborah DonovanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved