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Florence and Adam by Joseph S. Persaud. Palm Tree Enterprises. Illinois. 2006. pp.276.

Reviewed by Seopaul Singh
Guyana Journal, July 2007

The issue of miscegenation is evidenced among quite a number of Anglo-Indian Guyanese coming out of plantation life. Quite unsurprisingly also not all such offspring struggled, as did their local working class counterpart, to eke out a living in plantation life. Such beginnings, which are usually stained as scandalous, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

And while most, if not all, of the evidences of the illicit affairs were between estate sahibs and the female coolies, not all escaped the vigilance of the people who were very closely knitted together in the sugar estates.

Joseph Persaud introduces the novel Florence and Adam with a dispatch from the Albion estate manager William White to the English nobleman Sir Benjamin Harvey regarding his uncouth son Leonard Harvey who was shipped to the colony because of his irresponsible behavior. This letter provides the prologue of the novel.

This was the introduction to the story of Lily and the first plot of the novel. Immediately the reader is taken into the scenario, with a tragic experience involving the sixteen-year old Lily Kumar, the young daughter of the maidservant of the estate manager William White. Here the author gives an insight into the kind of crude behavior of the colonials towards the laboring people on the plantation. He noted, “After all in the eyes of the white overseers they were just coolies.”

The tragic incident occurred in the home of the estate manager at a party where Leonard Harvey, then a junior overseer, was also present. Leonard, pretending to have a headache, followed Lily into the bedroom for some aspirin. There he raped her on the bed of Alma, the manager’s wife.

Following in the vein of the success story of his grandfather and father, as depicted in Across Three Continents, Joseph Persaud in this his second novel, progressed into writing about three progenies of the plantation life. They emerged to become success stories of their own, crisscrossing three continents from South America to North America to England, but at a great price. These progenies were Lily, her daughter Florence, and Adam, Florence’s childhood sweetheart.

To avoid the disgrace to her family following her rape, Lily was spirited away to her nannie (grandmother) in Cumberland, Canje. In Canje it was evident after medical examination that she was pregnant. This immediately had the effect of virtually negating Lily’s life ambition of becoming a seamstress. It also led to the letter which served as a prologue of the story. Leonard was of course shipped back to England. But this was not the last of Leonard.

In Canje whilst at her grandmother, to avoid any scandal, Lily was hastily matched to marry Ragnauth who had two sons with no one to look after them.

The author intrigued the reader to follow the exposure of the forced relation by one colonial officer on a local. He placed Lily’s father, Raj Kumar, before the estate manager with demands for appropriate protective housing, away from the gossipers of the estate. Raj Kumar asserted, “You were there that night when it all happened… I expect you to make amends and show respect for the family.”

Soon Lily became Mrs. Ragnauth and gave birth to the most charming almost red haired and blue-green-eyed light-skinned baby girl whom she named Florence. The growing up early life and achievements of Florence as an accomplished singer form the basis of the second plot. Eventually Lily got the opportunity to pursue her dream to become a seamstress.

Later a most discomforting communication arrived for Lily from Leonard who was reacting to a strong guilt complex over his actions. He wanted to assume full responsibility for his misdeeds and proposed marriage to Lily. This riled Lily up to the extremes. She did not answer Leonard kindly.

In her soliloquy, she thought “they will always fathom us as their subject and their property, to do whatever they want to do with us. Whether we were indentured or not indentured, it never mattered to them… That has always been the thinking of the colonial British and it’s never going to change.”

Lily encapsulated her disdain for Leonard in one paragraph of a letter to him as follows, “Regarding your shameless proposal to marry me and make my child legitimate, I want you to know that my child already has a father, and she is already legitimate. My husband is a loving father and he has much class, something to which you are a stranger.” A second letter arrived for Lily in which was enclosed £5,000 for the support of Florence.

Florence and her stepbrothers (Ragnauth’s two sons) grew up with her grandmother’s help during their early years. Not long after Lily raised some cash through her grandmother (pawing her jewels) to buy a sewing machine. Lily now had three children under her charge and immediately thought of expanding her sewing business. She also was finding some time for a little leisure.

Lily took the children outing on a hot day at the beach. Florence was doused with water by one of three boys playing around. Adam, the son of Milton Rabindra, politely apologized. Motoor, Florence’s brother, threatened them and Adam rose up to fight. It was there also for the first time Adam fell in love with Florence even though they were still children.

The story of Adam and his early relationship with Florence formed the basis of the third plot of the novel. The two grew well into their teens, becoming an accomplished duo with Adam dexterous on the piano and Florence a nightingale. Soon Florence would have a singing contract with the National Radio Station.

There was yet a fourth plot which focused on the maturing of Adam into teenage as his father took him one night to learn the ways of the world at the Gold Key Club for the Elite. There Madam Olga would have one of her models teach him about the birds and the bees.

Adam’s propensity to womanize involved him with Edna, a forward young lady. This almost destroyed the relationship between Adam and Florence. To complicate the relationship between Adam and Florence further, Adam went away to the USA to pursue pre-medical studies, while awaiting acceptance in an English Medical College.

Before his departure, Adam mended his relation with Florence who was always proud of his ambition to become a doctor. On the night before his departure to the USA Adam and Florence made love for the first time and Adam promised to be true to her while he pursued his studies in the USA. But Adam’s uncontrollable philandering would soon take its toll on his vow to Florence.

In the USA he met Elizabeth and fell for her English style and her looks. Mustering all his restraint, he fought against his desires for her. Finally he succumbed and broke his promise…. He had an affair with Elizabeth before he returned to British Guiana on vacation. His more arduous fight was with his guilt. This he did with every fiber in his being to prepare for his return to Florence.

He reunited at last with Florence taking an engagement ring with which he would seal his promise to marry her after graduation. His love affair with Florence heated up during this short reunion with ecstatic spells of romantic intimacy. Whilst home he received acceptance in the English College where he went to pursue his medical program.

The fourth plot also heated up with Florence becoming an accomplished fashion model for the successful fashion business of Lily. Lily then sold her business to a famous London-based fashions corporation which retained Florence as their marketing model. As fate would have it Florence was going to visit London on the corporation’s business. There she would meet her father Leonard and spend some quality time with Adam in London.

However, the shock of his life was still in store for him as Florence made the arrangement for their visit to the Harvey’s Estate. Benjamin Harvey had passed on and bequeathed Florence with a hefty fortune which she kept secret from Adam.

The day came when Florence arrived in London. The Harveys were to meet and Adam was to be introduced to his future in-laws. They all gathered awaiting the last member of the Harvey’s family circle to arrive.

The shock, which came like a ton of bricks, fortunately was registered with full impact on only two persons in the company. Adam was mesmerized to see Elizabeth arriving with her son in the meeting room.

In quite a further twist of fate Leonard offered to take Florence for a ride around the Estate of her grandfather, leaving Elizabeth and Adam alone in the mansion. Adam had questions only Elizabeth could answer. Who was the father of the child Elizabeth carried? The encounter held more surprises for the reader. Where would this plot lead? What would the eventual outcome of the love affair between Florence and Adam.

Throughout the entire novel, the author demonstrated a special skill for weaving several apparently disjointed plots into a moving narrative, while interspersing it with a few minor plots such as Milton Rabindra, Adam’s father, law studies in England, his successful defense in a murder case in the Local Court, the attempt made by Sir Benjamin to have Florence kidnapped and taken to England which resulted in her being beaten unconscious by the would-be kidnapper whom she barely managed to stab in order to escape.

As Joseph Persaud focused primarily on the love affair between Florence and Adam, he took the reader through the success story of Lily which in itself intricately provided the basis of Florence’s success. And while working out the medical educational pursuit of Adam, beginning with the studies in the USA, he cleverly brought into Adam’s life, unbeknownst to him, one of Florence’s blood relative in the personage of Elizabeth.

Still keeping the intrigue alive, he concealed the true identity of Elizabeth from Adam over the entire duration of Adam’s studies even after he went to England to continue his medical program. It was not until Florence made her business visit as a representative of the Fashion Corporation based in London, that Adam would finally learn the identity of Elizabeth. More interestingly it was, to learn that Elizabeth had a son, whose father remained a riddle to the end. The author has excelled in an anticlimax as the final chapter of the novel laid bare some of the secrets which kept all the plots so closely related.

Other publication by J.S. Persaud: Across Three Continents – An Indo-Guyanese Family Experience

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