Love after Love, by Ingrid Persaud.
‘What is Love?’ A question that has been baffling famous figures of history – and mere mortals such as we – for millennia. I think the question should be not what it is, but why does it change (especially to its opposite) as time passes.
Ingrid Persaud’s debut novel explores the nature and degrees of loving each other, commencing with Betty and Sunil Ramdin, Trinidadian descendants of the Indian canecutters imported five generations ago. They have one little boy, Solo, whose birthday it is when Sunil takes a tumble down the back stairs and doesn’t survive the trip: Betty now has to raise Solo herself – fortunately, she has a good admin job at a high school and they manage to make the best of their new life, which becomes even better with the advent of Mr. Chetan, the maths teacher, who asks to rent a room from her. He is with them for several years, becomes a much-loved father figure to Solo, and a better-than-best-friend to Betty, to the point that one night, they share secrets. Betty reveals that Sunil didn’t fall down the stairs: he was pushed. By her. For Sunil was a drinker, and became a different, monstrous person when he was drunk – as her numerous hospital visits and injuries showed. She didn’t expect him to die; she just wanted him to experience broken bones, cuts and bruises, the same he had inflicted on her, but the worst happened.
Mr Chetan’s secret is his homosexuality, worse than a crime in Trinidad - it can get you killed! His own family had banished him from their lives after he and his schoolfriend Mani were discovered in an embrace; Mani’s family eventually saw sense and accept and love him as he is, but Chetan’s family have not: he is dead to them. And Trinidadian attitudes to LGBTQ people are biblical in their condemnation: all ‘Bullers’ are fair game!
Sadly, teenage Solo overhears some of these revelations and his love for his Mammy turns to hatred. He leaves for New York to seek out his father’s family in the hope that he will find a better kind of familial love than that from which he flees – and finds a very different life from what he expected.
Ms Persaud has filled her story with exuberant, wonderfully engaging characters, all the while demonstrating with almost careless ease the many and various necessary connections we need to have a life of some meaning: maternal love, familial love, romantic and sexual love, and the love of friends: have I covered all the bases? FIVE STARS.