THE SWINGING BRIDGE by Ramabai Espinet (HarperCollins), 306 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Sometimes, just plunging into another culture via a novel can be pleasure enough. Ramabai Espinet makes it easy with her first novel, The Swinging Bridge. The Trinidad-born women's studies prof tells a sweeping story that tracks the migration of Mona's family from India to Trinidad and then to the Canadian diaspora.
Mona, a film researcher, lives in Montreal but has vivid memories of her childhood in Trinidad. Those recollections are joyful in the way they take her back to past connections, but they're traumatic, too. Mona feels torn between the traditions that fed her identity and the restrictive codes of her culture, especially on women.
In 1970, her father takes his family to Canada, drawn to this country's multicultural experiment. But racism, it turns out, is alive and well in Canada, and Kello, Mona's brother, is dying of an AIDS-related illness.
Kello's last wish is that Mona return to Trinidad to purchase the family land. As Mona makes her Trinidadian pilgrimage, she probes more deeply into her roots and the meaning of her life choices.
The scenes in Canada are a little flat, and occasionally Espinet mishandles Mona's personal crisis. We can see she's conflicted, we don't need to be told so explicitly so many times.
But Mona is a character to root for, and Espinet takes you straight to Trinidad, soaking The Swinging Bridge in the sensations of Mona's rich heritage, a blend of Indian and Caribbean sounds, scents and celebrations.
At times, absolutely beautiful.
Espinet joins the Tales From A Woman's Tongue evening of readings Friday (April 23). See Readings