CREATING THE SETTING FOR UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE: A NOVEL





Under the Tamarind Tree is set in Guyana, the land of my birth, during the period 1950 to 1970. Although I recall isolated events of the “racial disturbances” of the 1960s, I was too young to understand the struggle of my parents’ generation for independence from Britain. I remember heated, alcohol-fueled arguments among the grown-ups around us about which political party was best for our country. Favorites varied, depending upon their racial allegiance.


As I discovered during my research, the choice of the majority did not count. The British and American governments had already made that decision. There would not be another communist government in America’s backyard.


I enjoy the research process. It not only helps me to re-create the social, economic, and political conditions of the world in which my characters live and relate with each other, but it also facilitates my development of the individual characters who will inhabit that world. You can check out my Selected Research Resources to learn more about the books, official records, and online resources that served as my blueprint.


Old photographs of then British Guiana were also an invaluable resource in entering the world of Richard Cheong, the protagonist of Under the Tamarind Tree. Godfrey Chin’s Nostalgias: Golden Memories of Guyana 1940 to 1980 (2007) brought Richard’s world to life.


Trev Sue-A-Quan’s books, Cane Reapers: Chinese Indentured Immigrants in Guyana (1999, 2003, 2017) and Cane Ripples: The Chinese in Guyana (2003) expanded my knowledge of the Chinese community and the lives of its prominent members of those early years. My paternal, Chinese grandfather was long dead when I was born. We had no connections with my father’s Chinese relatives. The Chinese men in my life were close friends of my father. Our landlord, who lived next door, was Chinese: He was obsessed with having a daughter. Three marriages gifted him with six sons, but no girl-child.


The struggle for independence, celebrated on May 26, 1966, and subsequent years of economic hardships splintered our lives. It could be no different for Richard Cheong, his family, and his friends. The racial violence during those years of struggle—perpetrated by both blacks and East Indians, making up the majority of the population—has left deep wounds in the psyche of the Guyanese people. Rancor corrodes trust. Forgiveness belongs to the generous of heart.


At an early stage in the writing process, I decided to give fictitious names to the leaders of the three major political parties, at the time. As the author of a work of fiction, it is not my intention to demonize any individual politician or political party. There is lots of guilt to go around for all parties. It is my hope that, through the lives of my fictional characters, the reader can come to a better understanding of the ways in which divisive racial politics can fracture our communities and families.


Against this tumultuous setting, Richard Cheong must also deal with the bitter fruit sown by his deceased father’s deception that led to Richard’s abandonment and impoverishment at the age of thirteen. We reap what we sow. Individuals and nations alike.


The captioned photo shows the Scottish Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on parade in British Guiana (1954).


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