Sweet Like Saltwater

Sweet Like Saltwater by Raywat Deonandan….

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First published in 1999, Sweet Like Saltwater is considered by some to be a modern Caribbean classic. It is a collection of short stories about migration and belonging. Widely critically acclaimed, in 2000 the book was awarded the national book award of the nation of Guyana (the “Guyana Prize”) in the Best First Work category. It is still taught today in literary classes in colleges and high schools around the world.

From the back of the 1999 edition: “Sweet Like Saltwater marks a brilliant, highly original fictional debut. These stories …about a fanatical cricket fan in rural colonial Guyana, an immigrant girl on the run on a Canadian backroad, a terrifying aquatic encounter in a faraway planetary colony of the future, a meeting of former neighbours on the banks of the Hudson… probe with acuity and a wry sense of humour the very modern condition of human exile and the search for freedom and belonging.”

The Author:

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Raywat Deonandan is a globally acclaimed scholar, novelist and journalist.  His works have appeared in many countries and have been translated into eight languages. His short stories have won competitive literary prizes from Hart House (University of Toronto) and the Canadian Author’s Association, and have been shortlisted for the coveted Journey Prize.  Sweet Like Saltwater was his debut book, and was awarded the national literary award of the nation of Guyana, Deonandan’s birthplace, in 2000.

Reviews:

“Deonandan’s prose is quirky and engaging . . . at its satirical best it is amusing and incisive . . .”  
The Globe and Mail (full review)

“I was intrigued by ‘Children of the Melange’ and ‘Nataraj,’ the very good opening stories of Raywat Deonanadan’s collection, Sweet Like Saltwater. As he makes clear in his ‘Introduction,’ Deonandan wants to trace the filaments of East Indian traditions as they are transubstantiated in North America, and also, as in the dreamlike cycles of narration in ‘Nataraj,’ to call up old patterns of village life that predate the fatal migrations across continents and time.”
University of Toronto Quarterly (full review)

“An endless fountain of fertile imagination.”Pagitica Magazine (full review)

“Each short story in this volume is exquisitely crafted, as if the writer creates each line like a work of art.”India Currents Magazine (full review)

“I could already smell the flowers and spices, the ocean, hear the tigers and different tongues.”Danforth Review (full review)

“Like other writers of South Asian background such as Michael Ondaatje, Cyril Dabydeen, Sasenarine Persaud, and Zulfikar Ghose, Deonandan helps readers to understand the enormous cultural diversity of our hemisphere.”Americas Magazine (full review)

“Deonandan challenges his readers with the outrageousness that is our modern world, to sit back and ponder the notions of exile and belonging.”MyBindi.com (full review)

“What works clearly in his favour is the power of the imagination, a certain freshness and good writing skills.”Stabroek News (full review)

“Psst, here comes a young writer, crossing your path almost noiselessly, who tells stories in such an unpretentious fashion that one is left wondering about the unbearable lightness of his craftsmanship.” –The Caribbean Writer (full review)

Additional short reviews from The Caribbean Voice and The Weekly Voice.

Table of Contents:

“Children Of The Melange”
Recollections on a scene of ghostly possession in Guyana.

“Nataraj”
The cycle of life in a Third World rice-farming village.

“King Rice”
Comedic tale of a crazy cricket fan in Guyana.

“Far From Family”
A young Trinidadian boy, now living in Canada, discovers the existence of a heretofore unknown and mysterious uncle.

“The Rhymer”
Comedic fable about a contest between an impoverished poet and a storyteller.

“While I Drink My Moccacino”
An observer watches cultural change from inside a cafe.

“On Germ Warfare And Bad Sex”
End-of-the-world experiences of a physicist, a mystic, a conspiracy theorist and the President of the United States.

“The Reef”
Futurtistic story of two sisters’ underwater adventure.

“El Dorado”
An American doctor searches for Incan gold in South America.

“The Ten Thousand And One Directions”
At a dinner attended by the Sultan of Morocco and British soldiers during World War II, love, colonialism and phantasmic occurrences are recollected.

“Seasonal Youth”
A fable about a village boy tempted by strange ideas.

“Camel’s Lips”
A story of seduction with words.

“Son Of Caine”
A shy Pakistani attempts to teach physics and literature to British boys in Singapore.

“Sanjay & Allison”
Inter-racial love between two children.

“In Flight”
An Indo-Canadian girl attempts to drive from her problems.

“Motherland”
A foetal twin provides a reflection for the racist experiences of a young immigrant to Canada

Introduction:

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The relationship between the peoples of India and their English conquerors is sometimes characterized as a partnership, an amicable exercise of political and social design that has resulted in the transplantation of Indian societies to all earthly domains pacifized by British military might. The flourishing homogenous Indian communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, East Africa, and, later on, North America are offered as the outcomes of such a “partnership.” In truth, of course, the design was entirely one-sided: a conscious attempt to impose a ready-made Indian middle class to provide a buffer between the conquering rulers and the angry masses of ruled.

Thus was the founding and the administration of a global empire made far simpler by the provision of an unconsciously cooperative race of brown-skinned merchants, bureaucrats, farmers and intellectuals. The nature of imperialism is such that, in the final analysis, all conquered peoples become base and purposeful human capital.

Nearly two hundred years ago, indentured servants were brought to the Caribbean from places scattered throughout the British empire. Among them were my ancestors who chose the terrors and hazards of hard labour and sea voyage rather than face a horrible famine in their mother country, India. Betrayed by their overlords who refused them their promised passage home, these men and women resignedly carved out unique societies in Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica, desperately attempting to recreate the ancientness and familiarity of their South Asian motherland.

Though their descendants would call themselves Indian, they would be in essence something new, yet both exciting and somewhat sad: cultural hybrids of Indian, British, Portguese, African and Chinese influences, grasping for stronger connections to the homogeneous societies left generations in the past.

We grasp in the food we eat, the tales we tell and the dreams we concoct in uneasy slumber. In these ways we contemplate the Indianness of our new societies, enhanced by remembered Hindi words, fables and songs, reinforced by a few Indian foods that remained unchanged, but spiced with the conflict and desires introduced by alien fraternal races, and lovingly corrupted by the inescapable caress of the warm Caribbean ocean.

When my family moved to Canada, the grasping continued, spurred further by the daily reminder of one’s own foreign nature, and necessitated by the realization that a reconciliation must be made between one’s chosen home and the ancestral memories that scream from within the veins. The memories of blood extrude into one’s nightly dreams and waking desires, forcing a reckoning of racial identity with cultural history and with the uncertainty of every step taken in a life that spans continents. I wonder, sometimes, if dreamers in those other pockets of transposed cross-culturization –Malaysia, Singapore and Africa– are also visited by messengers from deep within ancestral memory.

The history of a people can indeed be imprinted into its children’s blood, to be tasted by the subconscious in times of introspection, love and candour. And for we displaced Indian children of the Caribbean, as distant as as our birth from that realm may seem, the taste of our blood’s history is as sweet as the saltwater of that warm sea.

Raywat Deonandan, 1999

Publication history:
1999, TSAR Books, ISBN 978-0-9206617-7-2
2014, Intanjible Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9936763-2-1