Rabindranath Maharaj – A Perfect Pledge

Rabindranath Maharaj's, A Perfect Pledge, was short listed for a Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the 2006 Rogers Fiction Prize. Many post-colonial works have been written in fashionable, magic realistic styles. This novel avoids postmodern cliche. The story is by turns realistic, sensitive and satirical.

In the 1960's, life is hard in rural Trinidad. The novel begins with Jeeves' birth, to a cane farming family who lack indoor plumbing and electricity. It ends with his coming of age.

At seventeen, Jeeves' future mother Dulari is married off to Narpat. Narpat is a Brahmin, which would normally have ensured financial ease. Instead, Narpat ridicules all creature comforts and refuses to spend money on his rickety house, gifts for the children or celebrations.

A Perfect Pledge is not an easy read, both because of its dark tone and its vocabulary. Although rich language is one of the book's features, I could have used a lexicon of Trinidadian plants, animals and spirits. An the other hand, characters use grammar which hints at patois, which situates the story and is easily understood.

The humour in this novel is like dark chocolate, deliciously rich and bitter. No one is immune to Narpat's scathing analysis of the fatalistic drunks and religious fanatics around him, yet his Pride goeth before... earning the fate he deserves. Other characters are gently comedic and likeable in their folly. You will recognize people in this novel, wherever you come from.

In A Perfect Pledge, marriage is often painful whether arranged or forced by unplanned pregnancy. Parents beat their children, either to vent frustration or out of a sense that they should. The family, whether rich or poor, is no source of happiness.

As I watched Narpat's family slowly disintegrate, I desperately wanted one of the characters to succeed. In a Hollywood film, Narpat would have made a charismatic, eleventh-hour speech and convinced his neighbours to help him complete the factory. In a comedy, Dulari's sewing would have earned her cash for modern conveniences and given her a circle of peers with which to socialize. In a Hollywood story there could have been compromise, rationality, love. Not so for this family or this milieu where men and women are perpetually opposed.

There is hope in the end, because Jeeves is a simpler, saner kind of man, who will not be bound by his father's pledge.