Saturday, July 5, 2014

Portrayals of female working-class Afro-Guyanese experiences - spoiler alert

Jesus removed my grave clothes - Joy Wilson
Frangipani House - Beryl Gilroy

This year the book selections got jiggled around and I happen to have the two above to finish before the next meeting... made for an interesting comparison.

The first could do with a lot of editing - its raison d'etre being the message that God - the Christian one - used the writer's life to show that a worthwhile one could emerge from a dysfunctional coupling and sexual abuse and the latter - a more polished presentation used the device of flashbacks of women in a nursing home run by a Nurse Ratched type (One flew over the cuckoo's nest).

I got the message that God was the saving grace in the first woman's story (why did He drop her in the mess in the first place I wonder?) and was fascinated while reading it that other religions, making up the majority in Guyana, weren't mentioned -- perhaps not counting in the writer's consciousness. She carefully screened out seemingly, the rest of the other races in Guyana also; which I found odd as being a multi-ethnic and religious place, I felt, was one of the best things about Guyana - anyway it's the woman's story and her prerogative. She was careful to shield recognition of any person which sort of spoiled the fun for me - I like local films if only to recognize the locations. In spite of Hoyte's economic miracle, the writer toyed with the idea of 'hiding' in NY in the late 80s when she got her US visa but nixed the idea when she couldn't get the UN job she wanted and returned to Guyana.  From having such a dysfunctional upbringing I credited the close female network that supported her-- (which the other writer alludes to - in that story the nurse daughter who migrated to NY looks contemptuously at her mother's life and poverty and doesn't appreciate the warm kinship ties stronger than 'family') but wondered why she was hell-bent on producing so many children when her focus was on educating herself and moving up the career ladder... she had to stop at four for medical reasons. The children seemed to have turned out ok, one becoming a doctor and the other an economist and doing the classic Guyanese thing of migrating.  After putting up with her husband's philandering the couple in the first book settle down to becoming a solid couple with him supporting her rise in the church to the consternation of the brothers who feel that a woman's place should be one of submission to the man but seeing as she gets her masters degree from UWI there's not that much they can object to and I got the impression she was heading to becoming a Minister in the Church.  Not that I would want to be accused of being a cynic or anything, but that career path seems the most promising in Guyana in the absence of strong Government and social service policies.
In the second book, at the end we find out that the protagonist's best friend kills her abusive husband but the woman is hard-working and turns her hand to anything  to make money to support the children (and later the grandchildren when the daughters migrate and send then back to be raised by the grandmother) eventually by taking in laundry and making roadside snacks.
There is a strange similarity between the books as the girls grow up, get tied up in their lives while depending on the older women for support - like minding the children when young and then apparently forgetting about them in their hour of need - leaving them to battle the loneliness of old age and dementia by themselves and the kindness of strangers.

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