Tuesday 25 August 2020

The Swinging Bridge

Finished August 23
The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet

This book really took me into another culture that I was unfamiliar with. The main character here is Mona a film researcher who lives in Montreal, but grew up in Trinidad.
Her memories of her childhood are mixed, with moments of happiness and others of suffering and limitations. One of her worst memories is of her father in a drunken rage threatening to kill her brother when he was only nine years old. She also remembers cruel punishments from him for his perceptions of her unacceptable behaviour.
In the present-day, her brother Kello, who lives in Toronto, is dying and wants Mona to go back to Trinidad and purchase the family property that her father sold years before. As she talks to her brother, and visits the home of her youth, she must confront these memories, but also learn more about her family, her parents, her grandparents, and her great-grandparents.
The reader learns along with her, discovering the origins of the Indians who live in the Caribbean, and specifically in Trinidad, brought there as indentured workers following the end of the slavery of those from Africa. There is a hierarchy that has developed there, with the white people at the top and the black people at the bottom, with the brown people in the middle. In her family's history, whenever the women ventured to have relationships that ventured beyond their own people, they were punished and set back on the path that was preferred by the men in their lives. But the history survived, and Mona digs through it, finding the real story of her great-grandmother who came alone from India, losing a lover along the way, and finding a new, but restricted life in her new country.
She finds these stories are not singular, but common, and still happening. She watches her cousin Bess, who still lives in Trinidad deal with the sexism and racism that still influences the life she lives there.
This book was shortlisted for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the Best First Book category and longlisted for the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The author is a Canadian who grew up in Trinidad, which strongly influenced this book. There is a biography and interview at the back of my edition of the book.
I really enjoyed learning about Trinidad and its history and culture, and appreciated the glossary that was included as many of the terms were new to me. The characters speak in the local patois, which helps to bring the story to life in its setting.

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