Sunday, 21 June 2020

Secrets We Kept: Three Women Of Trinidad by Krystal A Sital


Secrets We Kept: Three Women Of Trinidad by Krystal A Sital
Published by W W Norton & Co on the 21st September 2018.

How I got this book:
Received as a birthday gift from my sister

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


There, in a lush landscape of fire-petaled immortelle trees and vast plantations of coffee and cocoa, where the three hills along the southern coast act as guardians against hurricanes, Krystal A. Sital grew up idolizing her grandfather, a wealthy Hindu landowner. Years later, to escape crime and economic stagnation on the island, the family resettled in New Jersey, where Krystal's mother works as a nanny, and the warmth of Trinidad seems a pretty yet distant memory. But when her grandfather lapses into a coma after a fall at home, the women he has terrorized for decades begin to speak, and a brutal past comes to light.

In the lyrical patois of her mother and grandmother, Krystal learns the long-held secrets of their family's past, and what it took for her foremothers to survive and find strength in themselves. The relief of sharing their stories draws the three women closer, the music of their voices and care for one another easing the pain of memory. Violence, a rigid ethnic and racial caste system, and a tolerance of domestic abuse - the harsh legacies of plantation slavery - permeate the history of Trinidad. On the island's plantations, in its growing cities, and in the family's new home in America, Secrets We Kept tells a story of ambition and cruelty, endurance and love, and most of all, the bonds among women and between generations that help them find peace with the past.

Secrets We Kept is an amazingly powerful memoir of one Trinidad family told through the brutal experiences of three generations of women. It is an intensely personal story and one which must have been so painful for Sital to write, yet through the attitudes and reactions (or, more honestly, the lack of reaction) of other people close to Rebecca, Arya and Krystal, I soon came to understand that their situation couldn't have been unique within this community. We never find out the source of Shiva's irrational anger and violence towards his wife and children. As a reader, I was fascinated by the different personas the man could project depending on his audience at the time.

Domestic violence is becoming a topic which can be discussed openly, but for all the women still trapped by it, Secrets We Kept is a perfect illustration of why publicly funded women's refuges are such vital places. Rebecca cannot escape Shiva because she has absolutely nowhere else to go. Her authentically rendered speech, when she eventually feels safe enough to begin to talk, is heartbreaking to read. Sital perfectly captures the impossibility of satisfying familial obligations while also preserving oneself. To understand what Rebecca endured is bad enough, but then for me to realise that her initial decision to leave her home for Shiva was aspirational was shocking. She managed to gain material advantages for her children, but at a terrible cost and I was horrified at the adult children's treatment of Rebecca once it became clear that Shiva needed constant nursing care. Did they have no empathy for their mother at all?

Sital's inclusion of phonetically written Trini patois for Rebecca and Arya's speech was inspired and I loved how the language transported me directly to their island home. I didn't find it at all difficult to read once I began to actually hear their voices. Away from Shiva's oppression, Trinidad sounds such a beautiful place so the contrast between those two aspects of the story is especially effective. I think that Secrets We Kept is an incredibly important memoir of the lasting effects of domestic violence and how its aftermath lingers to affect more people than just its immediate victims. It's also a moving story of a dysfunctional and fragmented family, only three of whom manage to reconnect in a meaningful way.


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Books by Krystal A Sital / Biography and Memoir / Books from Trinidad

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