For the Love of My Name is loosely based on the hatred and xenophobia that existed in British Guiana. The premise of the book is interesting, especially being based on historic reality. But on the whole, the writing is highly romanticized and incohesive. Every chapter is related in the first person singular, and determining who is doing the story telling of each chapter is a bit of a challenge. At 300 plus pages, the book should definitely have been tightened in many places. Many parts of the book have build ups that come to naught. Especially unnecessarily long are the autobiographical attempts of Robert Devonish. Perhaps it is an attempt by Persaud to let the dictator have his own say, so that the reader would not be inclined to leave all the fault at a single person's door, but instead blame society's own greed.
Quite a few of the characters are unconvincing. The sister of Robert Devonish, the picture of outrage against the rule of her brother, yet pretending to be his supporter, is weak and ambiguous. The exception would be Subha. Downed by poverty and misrule, the bright spot in her life are the letters from her daughter. As the daughter writes to her mother the lessons of independence and freedom she has learnt in the UK, the mother too dreams of a life where she can give up the home made chutneys in favor of ready made ones at stores so she can spend her time better, pursuing a degree in Interior Decoration.
In the end, perhaps the most colorful and interesting part of the book is the story of the purple masks. Though difficult to swallow all aspects of the marches, the description of how the masks came about and attracted the imagination of the elite Mayans makes an interesting tale.
Review by Amit Roy in India Today
Reproduced with permission of Peepal Tree Press
The Caribbean experience, a clever allegorical novel-and a woman of substance
For the Love of My Name could have been located anywhere. As the introduction says, "its echoes resonate across the killing fields of Bosnia, Kosovo. East Timor-or wherever state power gives free rein to the most primal impulses of kith and kin".
Though Guyana is not mentioned by name, its people will recognise strong parallels with events from four decades ago when Cheddi Jagan, the Leftist leader of Indian origin, was kept out of power for a generation by the CIA. This was done by financing his political opponents.
Persaud, a woman "approaching her 60s", is not a first-time novelist. Two earlier novels, Sastra and Butterfly in the Wind, were well received by critics. For the Love of my Name is not a light read but it is a clever novel. Take for instance, the device of masks deployed by Robert Augustus Devonish, Maya's president for life, to spread terror among his people.
"Masks." one of Persaud's characters remarks. "are as you well know-disguises, covers, cloaks, a form of concealment." Purple masks are worn by the president's henchman, but those closest to him get to wear the deepest shades of the colour, Perhaps this is Persaud's way of dealing with racial tensions in Guyana and Trinidad.
By and by, the masks fuse on to the face of their wearers. Persaud observes: "If you pretend to be something, you eventually become that something. You become the mask that you wear. She examines absolute power and shows how it only takes good people to remain silent for the triumph of evil. "It is the silent consensus which allows real horrors to continue."
The trigger point for her novel was an incident which occurred in Guyana in the early 1960s-a woman protester was cut in two by a tractor. Persaud became haunted by the woman whom she had never met. The tractor driver was tried but walked free. "I became that woman, says Persaud. "Her spirit had grasped me."
It is easy to understand Persaud's desire not to be dismissed simply as "Raj Persaud's mother", even though she is proud that her eldest has become Britain's best known media psychiatrist. She has two other children-Avinash, and Sharda. Her husband, Bishnodat Persaud, who was born in Guyana, is an economist.
For the Love of My Name also provides insights into the lives of Indians who settled in the Caribbean but who clung to their culture. Born Lakshmi Sitaram, Persaud believes her great-grandfather arrived in the Caribbean, with other agricultural labourers, from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, between 1890 and 1905. The lure was the chance of being able to own land. All she knows is that her father's father "arrived as a babe in arms".
She is sure Persaud began as Prasad hut on the plantations, names were written down phonetically by locals. Since the early migrants from India had minimal formal education, we lost the language. There wasn't anyone to teach Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu. Also Hindu first names were Anglicised so that someone would be called Margaret Persaud."
She marvels that although Indians In Guyana and Trinidad were influenced by Americans and surrounded by Christians, "there is something remarkably tenacious about their Hinduism. There weren't any comings and goings to India, yet people did not lose their culture. People still celebrate. Shivratri and Diwali." This despite the fact that "we did not have pundits", Persaud points out.
She herself has drawn inspiration from the Mahabharata. Early in her novel, a woman called Kamella listens to her mother read a well-loved passage about the heroism of Abhimanyu. Shortly afterwards, Kamella is mown down by a tractor when she and other women refuse to end a protest occupation of a bridge.
At the end of the novel, the president is given a lethal injection by his own family members. And burdened by evil, the very island of Maya sinks into the sea. One man who might usefully read her novel is General Pervez Musharraf. "Military might and power," reflects Persaud, "should not be used to change governments." -Amit Roy
Review by Jeremy Taylor in Caribbean Beat
Reproduced with permission of Peepal Tree Press
Lakshmi Persaud's third novel is a much more ambitious affair than her first two, Butterfly in the Wind and Sastra. It asks the question: why and how do we allow tyranny to take root? As the despot entrenches himself - the violence, the sophistry, the vote-rigging, the power-games, the asset-stripping - why is he not unmasked by other governments, by the intellectual elite, by the churches, by ordinary thinking people? Why is it so easy for him to outsmart us, divide us, manipulate us, until it is too late and there is only ruin and desolation? These are questions which range far beyond the Caribbean, but they are dangerous and uncharted territory for the Caribbean novel (yes, and why is that?), especially when the case study is a barely disguised version of a Caribbean state which will be easily recognised by any Caribbean reader. (And it's not Cuba, either; this is not post-Cold War polemic.) What's more, Persaud suggests a large number of persuasive answers, which do no credit to anyone. The book is adventurous in its structure and its range of narrative voices; it's a shame it did not get much tighter editing, which would have sharpened its effect further and made it less repetitive and word-heavy. For this is an important book: it asks us all to put aside cynical resignation about politics and politicians, and to engage much more firmly with anyone who thinks - as the President for Life does here - that "Power matters. Nothing else." (JT)
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