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Bissoondath, Neil.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1985. 247pp, cloth, $16.95, ISBN 0-7715-9836-X. CIP.

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Don Precovsky

Volume 13 Number 5
1985 September

Neil Bisoondath was born in Trinidad in 1955 and came to Canada in 1973 to study French at York University. He has stayed in Canada and, in addition to writing, teaches French and English. Digging Up the Mountains is his first collection of stories. It is an exciting debut, one which holds promise of a brilliant career.

Bissoondath writes about third world characters, mainly Trinidadians. The stories divide roughly into two thematic groups although there are some exceptions. One group is set in Canada and focuses upon the difficulties immigrants have in adjusting to the new land. They are a part of a long tradition of newcomer fiction in Canada. The second group concentrates upon political conflict and oppression in Trinidad and other third world countries. They represent something relatively uncommon in Canadian writing, because violent oppression is not a part of our political experience. These stories always have as their main character a victim of political violence. In the story "Digging Up the Mountains," it is Hari Beharry, a comfortably off, decent middle-class man who has to flee his country, penniless, after a change of government. In "Counting the Wind," it is a peasant graveyard keeper who witnesses secret government firing squads. Bissoondath is not a political novelist, in as much as he does not espouse a doctrine. He emphasises the horror of violence against the helpless and the guilt of its perpetrators, no matter what their place on the political spectrum.

The stories are told in a traditional realist manner. There is little experimentation. They are clear and concrete; the characters are convincing and the impact of the narratives is powerful. He is a writer with a conscience who can make us feel the horror he wishes to expose. "Counting the Wind" is a particularly gripping piece.

Earlier I mentioned that there were some exceptions to the two main thematic groups. The best of these is "The Cage." It too looks at the victimization of a helpless person. The narrator is a Japanese woman, and most of the action takes place in Japan. Bissoondath overcomes the cultural and gender barriers to create a believable character and story. It is a fine example of his versatility.

This book is suitable for general readers, as well as for upper-level high school, and post-secondary courses. It would fit in well in a thematic study of immigrant fiction. A fine collection.

Don Precovsky, College of New Caledonia, Prince George, B.C.
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