Outside of the Caribbean region, few people have heard of Harold Sonny Ladoo and his novel No Pain Like This Body and yet, first published in 1972, it is considered a classic of Caribbean literature. A year after publication, the author was found dead by the side of a road in rural Trinidad, some say murdered for bringing shame on his family and community.
No Pain Like This Body is an unrelentingly brutal story of poverty and violence set in the rice-lands of central Trinidad. The story is told from the point of view of twelve-year old Balraj. He and his three siblings live half-naked and barely fed on the edge of a snake-infested rice-field. It is August, the rainy season, and it rains constantly. Here are the opening lines. "Pa came home. He didn't talk to Ma. He came home just like a snake. Quiet." The malevolent Pa is often drunk on babash (an overproof rum) and when he isn't trying to drown or beat Ma to death, he is standing on one of his children's chests or he is threatening to kill them all. Pa is an illiterate working man, a product of indentureship, a man whose ancestors arrived from India, contracted as nearly-free labour in the New World, post emancipation. He is a small, dark, powerless lord, barely able to contain his fury.
On his family he rains down the crimes of the old colonial master. And while this story is uniquely Caribbean, if not Trinidadian, it is also a definitive case study of "the abused turned abuser", a story of how frustration and injustice can turn malignant and in on itself; it is a story which exists in every corner of the once colonised world.
Ladoo's novel, while violent, is also a piece of poetry. He tells of the horrors of this rural wetland in the nation language of the region and carefully measured prose. A first novel, it exhibits the talent and skill of a novelist with great confidence and control, and certainly with many gifts to bring.
Ladoo never got to mature as a writer. He was killed soon after he wrote this book. However, to anyone who knows Caribbean literature, his novel is infamous, and Ladoo is seen as one of the region's great literary stars. I have read the book several times and it is my favourite novel written by a Trinidadian novelist hands down. It deserves to be known and read by anyone who wants to know more about the small complex republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Monique Roffey's new novel, 'House of Ashes', is published by Simon & Schuster
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