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Mélange—powerful commentary writing
An artiste can opt for literalism—shunning the abstract and the metaphorical. Minimalism too is sometimes avoided. In this undertaking, Bertille David-Allahar's preference is unmistakable. Trini Melange is pure realism, culled and sculpted for exactitude and effect. But sometimes the far-reaching impact of an author’s work is unfathomable—even to the mind from whence it came. Melange drivels with existentialism. David-Allahar, a novelist in name only, tells a compelling story moving from the French island of Martinique to Trinidad, with a short stop in London, as the protagonist, Lucy, bucks the system seeking a higher education—the key to an independent and fulfilling future. The novel instructively shuffles through a century of Trinidad’s infrastructural past, evoking nostalgia and fascination. The author selectively asserts a feminist stance as she chronicles the travails of Lucy, born of incestuous rape. At times, she is a social critic, highlighting the glaring inconsistencies of church history with its eschatological platitudes. Melange proves an intriguing historical document, and well researched at that, offering interesting pieces of data, viz., Place des Ames, and The Place of Souls—names once associated with the famous Woodford Square. The characters intrigue, and are well developed, as the author ably resuscitates a genealogical tree that bears the hybrid fruits of the region’s colonial past. The products are exoterically enticing—high cheek bones, aquiline features, olive and sandy skin tones, long curly hair, even blue eyes, in one instance. But the insides are skewed, driven by an African or indigenous part that can never be silenced or erased, and a social standing that is less than desirable.
The author immediately sets the tone with the deception of Claire (born of a mulatto mother and a white land owner) at the hands of a French doctor in Martinique. She is shipped to Trinidad, pregnant—the shame unbearable for the father—a bastion of Catholic rectitude. Victorian style puritanism, secrecy and hypocrisy run amok in Melange. Further, the tales of emotional abuse at the hands of straight-haired, light-skinned paramours never sound an alarm. They are desperately sought as some kind of balm for a fractured psyche. Lucy triumphs, sort of—forever haunted by the web of deceit that formed her upbringing. “Who is my mother?” she exasperates. She fights back, the best way she knows—education. It is gem of knowledge bestowed by her step father, Dadal. She becomes a counsellor, rises through the ranks to the very top. But nothing can erase the pain of her childhood, nothing. But at least she shuns the sham of a superficial society. Yes, Melange pulsates with the rawness of matter (physicality and sexual energy)—only to be smothered with religious and social expectations. It’s an uneasy juxtaposition that leads to mental illness as in the case of Lucy’s brother. The publication’s thematic overtones are relentless, overpowering the reader, even at a insufferable pace. Maybe racism and “colourism” can be too ruthlessly disturbing. Then again, it is a reality that infects humankind in a twisted way. Negation of heritage, self hatred and love for “Massa” in all its manifestations provide the definitive clinic for even more psycho-pathological studies. Dr Franz Fanon, the late psychiatrist, himself from Martinique, would have been well intrigued. The author’s point is well taken.
Interestingly, many of the characters who suffocate themselves with racial hubris are steeped in religion with all its dogma. The author echoes the verse of a sacred book: “Their hearts toying with trifles...” In the end the author details their shattered dreams and tortuous end, adding relevance to another Quranic adjuration: “We (God) thus clarify things for you. We settle in the wombs whatever we will for a predetermined period. We then bring you out as infants, then you reach maturity. While some of you die young, others live to the most abject age, where after once with knowledge he then knows naught.” Surely, Trini Melange troubles the soul, for despite the many renditions of racial and religious tolerance, society continues to mirror the mangled state of the human mind. Mertille David-Allahar has made her point.
Trini Melange by Bertille David- Allahar
A powerful commentary on race class, religion and feminist ideals
**** Highly Recommended
Author House 2009
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