Caribbean Literature Pandemic writing

An Interview with Ingrid Persaud on Love after Love

I write in English that requires no translation for the forty-four million people living in the Caribbean. This is the real English of a real place. Why I must translate into the English of a very particular minority who carry on like them own the language? Nah.

One of the cultural casualties of this pandemic period is the book or novel that was slated for release after February-March 2020. Publishers could no longer hold lavish launches, send the author on triumphant book-signing tours, or the TV-show circuit, to promote their books and allow audiences to get to know them.

One such novel is Ingrid Persaud’s Love after Love which was set to be launched on April 2 this year by the prestigious British publisher Faber. Instead of the usual cocktail party in London there was a virtual launch with folks tuning in, drink in hand, from around the world. Kind’ve cool if distant, but social distance is in, indeed has become a kind of global goal.

Meanwhile Persaud who is scheduled to teach a module in PREE’s inaugural writing studio has received several rave reviews from a variety of media outlets: The Economist; The UK Guardian; The Irish Times, among others.

According to Sara Collins in the Guardian:

“One of the reasons Love After Love is so delightful is that it reads like a modern meditation on the different kinds of love as catalogued by the ancient Greeks, crossed with the characters’ deliciously gossipy self-reflection. Persaud gives us a captivating interrogation of love in all its forms, how it heals and how it harms, the twists and torments of obsession (mania), sex and romance (eros), family (storge), friendship (philia), acceptance or rejection by the community, and so on. But much like the Derek Walcott poem from which it takes its title, the novel is ultimately concerned with the possibilities of that elated and oddly elegiac moment when we finally come to love ourselves.”

The Irish Times review

The Economist reviewer concludes that the dark side of this “engaging and vibrant novel” cannot dampen its buoyant brilliance:

“Amid all the sorrow, though, Ms Persaud’s novel is a delight. It is written in a lilting patois that sings from the page, and it is full of warmth and beauty. Mr Chetan—as good as a father to Solo—wants the best for the boy: “He mustn’t go through life being ’fraidy ’fraidy.” Mr Chetan has learned that himself the hard way; it is a lesson for the reader, too.”

According to Marlon James, Booker Prize–winning author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf and another tutor in PREE’s writing studio, who blurbed the book: “Love After Love is gift after gift. An unforgettable symphony of love and loss, heartache and guilt, and the secrets and lies that pull us together, and tear us apart. Dazzlingly told in the most electrifying prose you will read all year.”

Love after Love is also available as an audiobook with Persaud herself voicing the different characters as can be heard in this clip:

Below is an interview with Ingrid Persaud conducted by Annie Paul last week:

What are your thoughts on this extraordinary period we’re all experiencing globally?

One day, one day Congotay – that is Trini for payback time. We, as a global society, were warned. We didn’t listen and now the apocalypse reach. I have been cycling through the seven stages of grief – I think we all are. If I can resist picking at the scabs of shock and denial I’m sure they will heal. But you see me? I’m deep inside the third stage – bargaining – at this point. I want an out of this instability and I want it today self. It’s not the solitude. Writers are accustomed to being alone and staying happy as pappy. What I can’t take is this feeling of being untethered, floating in dizzying space, looking for a solid purchase so I don’t fall into depression and anger. Every so often hope moves into focus and then it gets snatched away. How we come out of this is riding on technology, competence and governance. Say your prayers.

I’m particularly struck by the very different sensibilities of all the characters. How did you manage to keep their voices so distinct? Was that a difficult thing to do? 

Although the protagonists narrate alternating chapters in the novel, I often wrote one voice at a time to keep inside the character’s head. And hear this – Solo and Mr Chetan were easier to do than Miss Betty. Maybe that’s because as women we aren’t always invited to the party, so we have learnt from little to project ourselves into the places and roles we crave. Write as a teenaged boy or a gay man? No problem. Write as something closer to myself – a middle-aged woman searching for identity – and I stalled. 

One of the things I enjoyed about Love after Love is the lack of quotation marks to set off conversational statements between characters. Is there a precedent for this? I found it very easy to read and distinguish between the characters’s voices. The fact is that even when quote marks are used generally one often has to re-read a conversation to unravel the thread of who is speaking. But Love after Love dispensing with this convention makes you wonder why there is such a convention in the first place. Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo dispenses with fullstops in her latest novel—what’s going on?

All this “he said” “she said” is treating the reader like she dotish. Once it’s clear who talking then man left all them extra phrases that stop-starting the flow of story. And plenty writers asking what else we could do without. And yes check out Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl Woman Other. She ain’t have time for punctuation like full stop, and it works. This is a great time for playing with form. 

For me one of the most surprising things about you is your training and practice in visual art. What made you give art up and shift to writing? And might you return to art someday?

I stumbled into an art foundation course, and next thing I knew I’d switched from a law career back to uni. Maybe I just like going to school. Thing is – even when I was doing fine art I was interested in incorporating text. I was having a ball and then The Husband catch a vaps and decided he can’t live in London no more. We went back to where he born – Barbados. I tried, but couldn’t find my art groove. So, I started writing a blog once a week. Anyhow, horse dead and cow fat and I end up writing short stories and now a novel.

Did you ever attend a writing workshop or school? 

I have twin boys, although the lady in the gas station likes to say that them two set of twins real handsome. They are a handful and only recently finished high school. No way I could get a pass to go for workshops or writing school. I would loss away hours drooling on the internet over the Iowa workshop or the Arvon courses, even though in my heart I knew I wasn’t going nowhere. What I did manage was a workshop with George Lamming at UWI Cave Hill campus. Now that was a privilege.

Who are the writers who might have influenced you? 

If reading was in the Olympics all now so my parents would have a cabinet full of gold. I’m an only child so what to do? Always chook up in a corner with a book. I read whatever they read – from trashy novels to classics and everything in between. These days, if I need a little injection of inspiration I will check out Sam Selvon or read early V.S. Naipaul. When my soul needs poetry it is soothed by Derek Walcott, Lorna Goodison and Kei Miller. For a masterclass in writing short stories Olive Senior never fails me. 

Where did you learn to write in such a streetwise yet tender voice? 

Stop sweet talking me now. I grew up in conservative San Fernando in south Trinidad, and went to schools founded by Canadian-Scottish Presbyterians and later one founded by the St Joseph order of nuns. Nothing streetwise about me, sister. Like many writers I find voice from high-grade macoing where ever I find myself. I might be doing groceries, but half the time I’m making mental notes about the expressions people using. If there’s tenderness it’s because an old hard-back woman like me know that life ain’t easy for anybody. All of we struggling so best to show a little compassion.

Your rendition of Trini speech is fluid and true. You don’t translate for a global audience yet your language is accessible globally judging by the international awards you’ve won. How do you achieve this? 

I write in English that requires no translation for the forty-four million people living in the Caribbean. This is the real English of a real place. Why I must translate into the English of a very particular minority who carry on like them own the language? Nah. Say what you have to say with precision and an open heart, and readers will understand. Not everyone will like my writing. To be universally loved I would have to be a curry chicken roti with slight pepper. 

Finally, what is your idea of bliss? 

I am a simple woman. Give me a beach, a pot of pelau and a few close friends and my heart full. If I can’t have friends then bliss is a combo of quiet, a good book and a little wine. 

If you could have three wishes what would they be?

If you’re playing genie and granting three wishes now for now then please darling dou-dou, a vaccine for this Covid-19 so we could move about safe. My second wish is a big ask but I want a more socially responsible world post Covid-19. My last wish is pure selfishness. Please, genie, make sure my two pickney them have happy lives. That’s my three although let me ask you something. Why all you genie never giving away more than three wishes? Eh? If you giving, give nah man. I didn’t have place to ask for the winning lottery numbers or the supermodel body.

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