Brenda Chester DoHarris is a professor of English at
Back home they dream of escaping to
Throughout all the betrayal (the men in this novel are all shifty-hearted philanderers with few redeeming features) the women – raised in the 50s, you have to think, and taught the propriety of self-restraint – do not respond with palpable gestures of outrage (like, for instance, pouring cups of sorrel on the man’s good, good dress shirts).
The single act of retaliation is carried out by a black woman “with an uptown
Usually the women experience “nausea” and retreat to the bathroom to retch; but they carry inside them like a DNA code a quality that author DoHarris admires: “dogged insistence”; a silent-suffering, survivalist ethic.
The narrator is a graduate student pursuing studies at
There are references, like markers of time passing, to
There is, too, the familiar joke of foreigners who confuse
Even the female sensibility is recast in local imagery. A character, contemplating the law-breaking measures she must take to enter the
There are touches of old century suggestiveness in DoHarris’ prose that fits neatly into her characters’ disposition. At high points of uncertainty her women are often “seized by a strong desire to”. Sexual intimacy is given a romantic old world (or soap opera new world) treatment: “That night in their nakedness, they discovered the delight of each other’s secret places…in the searing heat of their passion.”
A woman comes home to tell the husband she left in
The novel’s main character is an old friend of the narrator, not as educated, from Kitty village back in the 60s. When their paths cross again in 1979 on a subway train – “in the gritty, rumbling underbelly of metropolitan
As with the novels of another writer/professor, David Dabydeen, readers must be patient with the author/narrator expositions on the characters’ culture, their roots, the socio-economic background – the framing of their idiosyncratic world, so that uninformed readers can get the big, widescreen picture.
As it moves along
Ipod-toting younger readers swimming lazily through this DoHarris novel need to brace themselves for this kind of contextual undertow.
Against their wish, you suspect, her women are asked to lug a lot of extra baggage, for page after page, from village to city. They’re helped along by the narrator’s earnest voice-over, for Professor DoHarris feels a lot of “explaining” is necessary about their choices, their constantly victimized state. In a tough, masculinized world the narratives of struggling Guyanese women, their longing for security & family wholeness, are after all very serious business.
Contact with other ethnics in
Near the end of the novel there’s a brief report – a remnant dropped in as if half-remembered – on the fate of the East Indian woman, Druppatie, who’s unlucky in cross-cultural love.
What happens to migrant women dreaming and working illegally in
Still – and despite the sentimental untidiness of its closing pages – Calabash Parkway should find a sisterhood of supportive readers. Its implanted pedagogical “themes” make a strong case for the respect and commitment its characters crave. (On the other hand, under the weight of its own affirmative goals, it might have sunk already into that ocean of the all too familiar, the nothing new.)
To all the love-scarred Guyanese women adrift out there – Agatha, Gwennie Brathwaite, Eunice, Doreen, Evadne, Evadne’s Nennen, Jennifer, Samantha, Drupattie – if you can find time to read it, this book’s for you, too.