Rules of engagement in fiction writing
Stabroek News
February 27, 2002

Dear Editor,

I read Eusi Kwayana's belated criticism of Lakshmi Persaud's book "For the Love of My Name" in the last Sunday Stabroek and was struck by his criticism of the writer for what he saw as her misrepresentation of history. Kwayana chose to conveniently misunderstand that he was reviewing a work of fiction, not a factual account of history. What struck me further is that Mr Miles Fitzpatrick wrote recently to support SN's columnist Ian McDonald for his remarks in his novel, The Humming Bird Tree, contending that this was a work of fiction and that the "rules of engagement" of fictional work allowed for such racist remarks. Stabroek News also accused Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul of racism, and criticized his hard line on post colonial societies in his works, never taking into consideration that many of his works were also fiction.

It is now obvious that SN's concept of "fiction", of what is allowed and not allowed, flexes and changes in order to condemn the work of Indian Caribbean writers and, in Naipaul's case, the writer himself. The perceptions and opinions of these writers have no validity in the Caribbean context which upholds and supports the view held by the Afro and Euro centric establishment such as Kwayana, Fitzpatrick and the Stabroek News directorate.

The Indian writer to be praised has to compromise his artistic and intellectual integrity, and give the lie to his own feelings. He has to be selective with his truths in order to accommodate the views of this establishment. That is, if he wishes, to win accolades from them. Personally, I am very happy that the Caribbean has produced writers such as Persaud and Naipaul, writers who refuse to compromise their integrity to win hollow praise.

Since Persaud's book was launched over a year ago and was ignored by Stabroek News I can only think that Kwayana's critique was printed to counter the much less critical approach taken by John Mair of Persaud's work, which was published by SN a few weeks ago. Stabroek News, to be true to its anti Indian stand, rushed in with Kwayana's critique no matter that it contradicted SN's previously held view on the rules of engagement of fictional works.

Since Kwayana feels so strongly about fiction being true to history, he should be even more concerned when history is rewritten as fiction. I refer him to our current history and to the most recent publication of "Emancipation" magazine to which he was a contributor. The magazine's article on the 2001 post elections violence entitled "Buxton Uprising" mentions not once that the violence involved African Guyanese beating up, yet again, Indian Guyanese. In fact the whole squalid affair of robbing, beating and wounding Indians, and bombing their buses and cars is given the heroic title of an "uprising".

"Inventiveness is not a cure for amnesia," says Kwayana in his article. Inventiveness in fiction, as Fitzpatrick would now, hopefully, remind Kwayana, is what fiction is all about. Inventiveness in reporting an event of history, however, is a dastardly act and is never a cure for amnesia. The Buxtonian violence against Indians will always be remembered truthfully even if African Guyanese try to rewrite it as fiction that even makes them out to be heroes who were wounded in action.

Persaud perhaps got it right in her novel when she wrote that the masks that the dictator and his supporters wore to cover up their evil became so affixed to their faces that they could no longer get them off. They became the very evil that they tried to mask. Perhaps, she is sounding a warning.

Yours faithfully,

Shelly Jaisingh

Editor's note

Mr Kwayana submitted his review to the Sunday editor for her consideration, no review was requested.