VALMIKI’S DAUGHTER by Shani Mootoo (Anansi), 390 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Looking for a vacation without having to pay? Pick up Valmiki's Daughter and take a trip to Trinidad.
Shani Mootoo's story about closeted gays, coming out, mixed-race marriage and the familial tensions that arise from all of the above puts you right inside the island.
Each of the four sections of the book begins with a detailed tour of its setting. You can smell the flowers, the crazy-busy streets and the cacao growing on the land.
Valmiki is a doctor living with a major regret. Decades ago he tossed aside love of his life Tony in favour of a conventional marriage. He's often unfaithful - with both women and men - but he's completely committed, or should I say resigned, to his marriage.
Sensing that his daughter Viveka is a budding lesbian, Valmiki is torn between discouraging her and encouraging her to explore her authentic self. Making things harder is his wife, Devika, who's on to Viveka, too, but isn't nearly as sympathetic.
When world traveller Nayan, Valmiki's childhood friend, brings back to the island his beautiful, French, white, bisexual wife, Anick, Viveka falls hard and fast.
The theme of sexual secrets is a major one in this book, but Valmiki's Daughter is also a fascinating meditation on the complexity of race relations. Indian Nayan's recollections of his sense of self while living in Paris evoke a man reeling from racism's subtle emanations. And his decision to bring his trophy wife back home from Canada transforms his relationships - in ways that shock him - with his family and everybody else on the island who knows him.
Mootoo's prose is vivid, poetic and passionate. She doesn't takes no easy routes with the narrative. This is a writer who knows how to satisfy the reader - if only the realities of her characters' lives didn't get in the way.
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