Monday, 22 March 2021

The Cursed Village by Harripersad Samaroo

The Cursed Village by Harripersad Samaroo
Published by Troubador on the 14th October 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Usati is a four year old growing up in Sunnyvale, a small, poor and remote sugar cane farming village in Trinidad in the 1940’s. He describes the world he sees, and captures the language and culture of the mainly illiterate peasant workers who live around him. There is widespread belief in black magic, and nearby is the infamous silk-cotton tree which houses the evil spirits who are responsible for all the ills of the village. Usati looks after his two younger siblings. Even as a four year old he has to be a human shield for the neighbour on several occasions in the face of domestic violence. Life is hard and brutal with constant fear of violence and beatings. 

Following his mother’s death the children are brought up by their grandparents, but there are further constant upheavals within the family. Violence remains within all parts of this society, as is crime and suffering. Usati observes how his family suffers through their illiteracy and the society within which they live. 

Usati battles for a good education. He vows to bring literacy to the village and to fight against the cruelty that surrounds him. Usati and B started as teenage lovers, but can their love survive and endure a lifetime from the wicked curse and traumas of the intervening years?

The first thing, I think, to say about The Cursed Village is that it is a grimly violent novel. Scenes of child abuse, domestic violence, and grinding poverty follow one upon another which made this a difficult novel for me to read. In a lot of ways, the story reflects issues and practices I read about in The Secrets We Kept by Krystal A Sital. However, while character portrayals in that book drew me in, I felt I was always kept at arms length from The Cursed Village. I think most of the problem was my inability to believe in Usati as the young boy we are supposed to see. Usati is well-read, pompously erudite and very knowledgeable about medical matters. This is entirely plausible towards the end of this novel when we encounter him as a seventy year old man, or even possible for him in the chapters where he is a young man returning from five years of college, but four-year-old pre-school Usati making statements such as 'They are the ones responsible for and contributing towards the high infant and child mortality rates in the village', when his parents and neighbours speak exclusively in a phonetically-written local patois, just didn't work for me. This was a shame because Samaroo has a lot to say about typical rural life in this 1940s Trinidad community and he obviously has strong ideas about the importance of education in improving the people's lives. The settings were described in lots of detail and I felt I got a good sense of people's daily lives. Overall, I am glad to have read The Cursed Village, but I am also glad to have finally got to the end.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Harripersad Samaroo / Historical fiction / Books from Trinidad

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