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A Perfect Pledge [Hardcover]

Rabindranath Maharaj
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

July 26 2005
A Perfect Pledge is at once a beautifully detailed novel about family life, a lively and abundant portrait of Trinidadian society and an ambitious, universal story of striving and strife. Following four decades of tumult – both national and domestic – this third novel by acclaimed author Rabindranath Maharaj is both deeply perceptive and strikingly unsentimental; it is full of singular characters and memorable, often hilarious dialogue. A Perfect Pledge is a major addition both to Canadian literature and to the literature of the Caribbean.

The novel begins with the birth of a child to Narpat and Dulari in the village of Lengua in the late 1950s. Geevan, known universally as Jeeves, is the son that Narpat, an irascible cane farmer, has long wished for to add to his three daughters. But, growing up in his father’s shadow, Jeeves develops into a scrawny, quiet, somewhat sickly boy–not helped by Narpat’s unusual dietary pronouncements, including his insistence that Jeeves eat properly purgative foods.

On one level, A Perfect Pledge is a compelling story of the intricacies of family life – of the complex relationships between husband and wife, parents and children – set in a lopsided hut with, when the book begins, no electricity or indoor plumbing. Narpat, the patriarch, is an engrossing character, a self-proclaimed “futurist” with no patience for religious “simi-dimi.” His ideas to improve his family and his village’s lot are sometimes inspired, but sometimes seem crazy; occasionally they fall somewhere in between.

The novel follows the family’s progress, from the purchase of a cow named Gangadaye, through the children’s schooling, to Narpat’s almost solitary efforts to build a factory on his land, interspersed with accidents, weddings, conflict and much more besides. Through these events A Perfect Pledge becomes a subtle portrait not only of Narpat but of the forbearance and irritation of his wife Dulari and their daughters’ clashing personalities, often seen through the observant, hungry eyes of the young Jeeves.

But A Perfect Pledge takes up other subjects too. As well as the story of a family’s struggles, it is a vivid portrayal of Trinidad over the last four decades – a deprived and sometimes mad place lurching into modernization. Rural life on the island is particularly hard in the 1960s; the infrastructure is ramshackle and always on the cusp of being taken back by nature. But the village of Lengua is a cauldron boiling with village politics, Hollywood movies, neighbourly rivalries, ayurvedic healing and much else. And while it is both panoramic and empathic, A Perfect Pledge is also a deeply pleasurable read: its elegant narrative tone is enriched by the astonishing improvisations of a Trinidadian English infused with Indian, British, American and other influences. Not a page passes without some jaw-dropping turn of phrase, from icy hots to scrapegoats, dreamsanhope to couteyahs.

A Perfect Pledge follows its characters through years of growth, challenges, and in Narpat’s case, eventual decline. As he gets older, Narpat stiffens into himself, his plans becoming ever more Quixotic and even dangerous. Jeeves, meanwhile, is trying to step clear of his bad beginnings and become an independent, self-sufficient man, while honouring his family ties (something his sisters conspicuously fail to do). A Perfect Pledge is a funny and moving book that portrays the struggles of an entire society; but the difficult relationship between father and son is ultimately at its heart.

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Narpat, 55, and Dulari live with their three girls and one son, Jeeves, in the village of Lengua in Trinidad in Rabindranath Maharaj's A Perfect Pledge. Narpat, an East Indian in constant conflict with his world, is a cane farmer with high ideals and great ambitions. He runs for village council, wins, and helps the local farmers win full title to their land. His endlessly prickly personality, however, keeps everyone at bay. Next, he plans to build his own cane factory so the farmers can obtain a just price for their crops. This is also the story of Jeeves, the youngest child, who loves his father despite his failings, and we learn how deeply the old man has affected the character of the boy. And this is the story of rural Trinidad itself, a rich tropical world of red mangoes, bats, insects, pineapple, coconut jelly, cucumber stems, and eccentric characters. The city and the government always lurk in the background ready to control Narpat's life. Narpat's struggle often takes the form of stringent dietary restrictions (no sugar, no oils, no fats) and resistance to most of the trappings of the modern world, such as television and movies. Narpat, whose motto is "Even if I have to die in this field, no one will take it from me," is a fully realized character, at times likable, but more often maddeningly self-righteous. The three daughters, however, are almost indistinguishable from each other. But altogether, this abundant novel, with its Trinidadian English dialogue ("What sort of work your father does do, boy?"), proves to be a rich feast of place and language. --Mark Frutkin

From Publishers Weekly

Narpat is his Trinidadian village's scolding iconoclast and most vocal critic—a sort of King Lear of the sugarcane fields. He scorns his neighbors for their rum drinking, laziness, bad diet and use of electricity. Year upon year, his overworked wife, three daughters and one son, Jeeves, form a captive audience in this bittersweet and affectionate portrait spanning two decades. Age 55 by the time Jeeves is born in 1961 (a year before Trinidad's independence), within a few years Narpat runs for county councilor on a "futurist" platform and a promise to settle his fellow farmers' dispute with the local landowner. Meanwhile, Jeeves attends school, where variously incompetent and abusive teachers drone in stark contrast to Narpat and his practical autodidact's wisdom. As Jeeves watches his father's influence radiate beyond the family's ramshackle house, he has to decide how he will orient himself to his father's life and leanings. Born in Trinidad, Maharaj has published two previous novels in Canada, where he lives; this is his U.S. debut. Comparison to V.S. Naipaul's Indian-Trinidadian oedipal fiction will be inevitable, and Maharaj lacks Naipaul's acidic bite—probably intentionally. But he does have Naipaul's sense of grand scale in a small place, one that comes through on every page.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Maharaj has a knack for gently reminding us that, regardless of where we are born or live, we share a common and limited range of human emotion, desire, and experience. In A PERFECT PLEDGE, Narpat is a man with a mission. He endeavours to live what he needs to believe: that he is not what Trinidad has made others. Instead, in his own oddball way, he's determined to shape a new Trinidad--blind to the fact that his efforts, frustration, and idealism are slowly isolating him, making him an island within an island.

Readers will delight in the humorous quirks of Maharaj's characters and the vivid picture he paints of one man's struggle to be better than ordinary. More information and news about the author and his books can be found on his website at rmaharaj dot wordpress dot com.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Is something that fall on your lap. Nobody else could do it." Oct. 1 2005
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1956 Trinidad, Narpat Dubay's family lives quietly, this father of four tending his sugar cane patch and designing ingenious contraptions to make life easier. In Trinidad, nothing is ever planned, the frequent floods thought of as an act of God, a punishment, and Narpat seeks to rectify such ignorance. He has also noticed an influx of "Outsiders", squatters who fill empty houses as though they own the land. Narpat is determined to run them out and restore order to a country filled with corruption and graft: "Just like the invaders of India, the Outsiders were introducing a system of values alien to the village."

Overburdened by insidious poverty, Narpat's wife, Dulari, borrows two-hundred dollars from her more successful brother to outfit her children properly for school and to arrange transportation for the older girls. While they are dependant on local bus transportation, Dulari waits anxiously for her daughters to return, content only when she has purchased a safe ride for them. Overruled and his authority threatened, Narpat is furious, believing the walk is beneficial, but then he expects every inconvenience to be turned into a learning experience, always ready with homilies to instruct his children on the virtues of hard work. Narpat feels his wife is acting against his wishes, as he routinely attempts to instill good habits and independence in Jeeves, Chandra, Kala and Shushilla.

Trinidad's anticipated day of independence is August 31, 1962. With all the crooked politicians in the election, Narpat runs for county councilor, his main concern that the cane farmers own the deeds to their lands. Later, building his factory is an act intrinsically out of step in island society, the degree of individuality and authority he assumes an anomaly. His philosophy too large for his world, Narpat is sure to disappoint, but it is in his nature to pursue his dream. While Narpat dedicates himself to fighting corruption and bureaucracy, his wife and children are held hostage to his ideals. Dulari is essentially powerless, her sanity preserved only by "this numbing ritual of sweeping, cooking, cleaning and washing, this silencing of my mind". Meanwhile, Narpat's life is purpose-driven; he is determined to adhere to the high moral path no matter what the cost, the children caught in the emotional underpinnings of futile arguments between their parents. As they mature, the children may question their father's dogmatic approach to existence, but the most telling exchanges are between husband and wife behind the closed door of their bedroom.

Time passes and the island changes but "progress [is] closely allied to treachery". In this landscape, village life, seemingly insignificant in the larger scope of things, is a microcosm for universal principles. The eccentric characters that people these pages, their idiomatic speech and stubbornness, portray a land in the midst of change, corruption a natural outgrowth of its evolution. The voices of Narpat, the Manager, Doon the schoolteacher, Radhica, Dulari and Jeeves fill this tale with the dreams and laments of the ages, a template for humanity, played out in all its sturm and drang. Luan Gaines/ 2005.
5.0 out of 5 stars No Man is an Island, and No Island is a Man, but..., July 25 2009
By A Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Maharaj has a knack for gently reminding us that, regardless of where we are born or live, we share a common and limited range of human emotion, desire, and experience. In A PERFECT PLEDGE, Narpat is a man with a mission. He endeavours to live what he needs to believe: that he is not what Trinidad has made others. Instead, in his own oddball way, he's determined to shape a new Trinidad--blind to the fact that his efforts, frustration, and idealism are slowly isolating him, making him an island within an island.

Readers will delight in the humorous quirks of Maharaj's characters and the vivid picture he paints of one man's struggle to be better than ordinary. More information and news about the author and his books can be found on his website, at rmaharaj dot wordpress dot com.
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