Rage from the Backwater: A Novel by Guyanese Writer Somnauth Narine

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Reviewed By Chaitram Aklu

In September 2023, Somnauth Narine published Rage from the Backwater A Novel – a realistic suspense fiction. It is the writer’s first novel which could easily lead the reader to conclude the book is a non fiction. The author uses fictional names for his characters and real place names for the setting, which could make the book lap into the travel genre, following the path of great travel writers like V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux.

Narine was born and raised in Guyana. He began writing short stories as a teenager, many of which were read on national radio. Sixteen of those stories were later published in an anthology: The Call of the Ocean ((2012). He read for a degree in civil engineering and worked in that field before migrating to the U.S. where he changed career, entering the teaching profession in NYC. He continued writing – producing a Children’s book: Anansi and the Alligator’s Diamond (2012) and wrote four scripts that were turned into movies: Brown Sugar Too Sweet for Me (2013), Forgotten Promise (2014), Protection Game (2016, Brown Sugar Too Sweet for Me 2 – The Oil Dream (2020).

The plot in Rage from the Backwater concerns a 35-year-old man, Kunal Satrohan the protagonist, who’s family past had been hidden from him his whole life and only unveiled when Kunal, a loyal son and only child, set out to perform the last rites for his deceased parents.

Somnauth Narine (Photo: C.Aklu)

The Satrohan family migrated from Guyana when Kunal was only three years old and had never returned or saw any of his close relatives from his native land. They settled in Richmond Hill Queens and lived what seemed like a normal life with Kunal taking on more responsibilities as his parents grew older – until one morning at age 35, tragedy struck – their home was set on fire by an arsonist – killing both his parents. The only clue left was a grainy photo from a security camera.

Kunal performed the last rites for his parents – his mother interned in New Jersey according to Muslim rites and his father a Hindu, cremated. He undertook to return his father’s ashes to his native land and scatter the ashes at Mahaica which Kunal believed was his parent’s birthplace.

It was only upon arriving in Guyana that Kunal really learned about his parents’ past and was determined to get to the truth. He followed a number of leads over ten days that took him from Parika at the mouth of the mighty Essequibo River where he was based, to the Corentyne in Berbice County where he learned from his aunt that his father was a wrongly convicted felon and served time in prison after he got married to Kunal’s mother. He also learned that another man (Yacoob) was attracted to Kunal’s mother. This attraction would lead to arson and murder. This was never shared with Kunal in his whole life.

Kunal’s father’s return to his small village as a “jailbird” where people, family and friends “fight” with each other one day and make up the next and where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Such village dynamics were well documented by Chandra Jayawardena in his book: Conflict and Solidarity on a Guianese (sic) Plantation. (1963) and is still prevalent today in the villages. He was ostracized to the extent that he moved away to Demerara and lived at Mahaica along the river.

The protagonist then traveled to Mahaica where he disposed of his father’s ashes and learned from an uncle more details of his family’s past, including a fire (also set by an arsonist) that destroyed their home. His parents had eascaped that fire unhurt.
Armed with this shocking information, Kunal went into detective mode and began to piece the bits and pieces of information and started tracking down those responsible for his father being wrongfully accused, convicted and imprisoned for the death of a young child in his Corentyne village.

Along the way Kunal discovers that each one of the offenders paid dearly for their crime violently or suffered one way or another. Seeram’s (Dhantal) store was burned down by his employee Hakim (One Cylinder), his wife got alzheimers. Yacoob (One Cylinder’s brother) shot his (Yacoob) wife (Kunal’s aunt) dead and his daughter drowned. Yacoob escaped, supposedly to Venezuela. One Cylinder is lamed in an accident and is killed in a boat explosion as he is being chased by Kunal, Seeram and Officer Brown, just as he entered Venezuelan territory trying to escape justice.

To get to the final link, Kunal must find Yacoob who had made his way into the United States as an illegal alien and was living in neighboring Springfield Gardens and was still seeking revenge by plotting to kidnap, rape, and kill Kunal’s girlfriend Pratima. Her parents had also kept their past and their connection to Kunal’s family past hidden from her. On returning to NYC Kunal gave a hint that he was involving the NYC police in his hunt. “I texted Det. Butler.” The plot finally ends in a violent encounter with Yacoob in a dingy basement hideout which he (Yacoob) rented and nearly lost his (Kunal’s) own life but was saved only by the arrival of the cops who took Yacoob away in an ambulance and later to face a series of charges.

The novel closes with a twist, a characteristic of O’Henry (William Sydney Porter. 1862-1910) in his writings and was noted for coincidences and surprise endings in his short stories. Seeram, (Partima’s grandfather) who had helped put Kunal’s father in prison, had moved to Leonora and became a successful businessman and rose to become a power broker in the community. He used his influence and provided transportation to get the police on the trail to capture One Cylinder who was communicating with his brother Yacoob in New York and would have information of Yacoob’s NYC location.

After One Cylinder’s demise, Seeram flew to New York to confess his role, express remorse and ask for forgiveness, and also to bless the union of his granddaughter Pratima, and Kunal. When Seeram said. “I am sorry that your father went to prison for something he did not do — I accept that I am responsible for the death of my daughter, not your father.” Kunal is forgiving, “I thought of my parents and a feeling of peace and relief descended upon me.”

Rage never slows down from the moment of the fatal fire to the end as the protagonist followed clues in Guyana and returned to NY and closed in on the antagonist.

Narine tells a good story. The plot is stitched together seamlessly so that the sequence of events flow smoothly throughout the 19 chapters. At one point however, the reader may feel overwhelmed and worry that too many subplots and characters are put too closely together. But the narrative becomes very clear in the last chapters.This is because he has a way of compelling the reader to keep reading and uses an abundance of similes in his descriptions of places and events and people to hold the reader’s attention. The reader becomes more interested in the protagonist and his next encounter as the plot unfolds. It is impossible to make a foreward connection of what the next move of the antagonist will be and how the protagonist will respond. By the end of the story, however, the connection between the characters come together.

As I read Narine’s Rage from the Backwater, I find a theme that connects to a calypso by the Mighty Sparrow in which he tells us: “Love can cause a lot of confusion.” I would add that love can also lead to revenge and murder. Other themes can be commitment and loyalty, togetherness of family and community, keeping secrets, determination, remorse, and forgiveness.

Don’t be surprised if and when a movie titled: Rage From the Backwater is released.