Ingrid Persaud’s book tells the story of a Trinidad-based family, which is torn apart, and how they find the courage to find love again
Ingrid Persaud’s Love After Love follows the journey of three people – Betty, Solo, and Chetan – whose lives go through a lot of turbulence over a period of time. At the centre of this story, set in Trinidad and New York, is the relationship between a mother and her son, Betty and Solo. Soon after Betty’s father passes away, she leases a room in her house to Chetan, who’s a teacher at the local university, and with time, he becomes a father-figure to Solo. For a brief period of time, Betty and Chetan contemplate living together since they genuinely like each other; however, Chetan soon confesses to Betty that he’s gay. And living as a gay in Trinidad means having to hide your sexuality and identity from the world. But Betty, who understands Chetan’s predicament, has a secret of her own. One fateful night, when she confesses this secret to Chetan, little does she know that it’ll throw her entire life off-balance when her son Solo overhears it.
‘Love After Love’ is my introduction to lives of people in Trinidad, and plenty of references to Jahajis (Indians who were sent to Carribean islands to work as indentured labourers on sugar plantations) brought a sense of familiarity with the landscape. The language too has a rhythm of its own and it’s one of the most endearing aspects of the novel. Then, there’s the food, particularly Trinidad goat curry which left me with an insatiable desire to taste it sometime. Ingrid also talks about the local customs and rituals to drive away evil spirits and put an end to bad luck, which made me dig deeper into their Indian connection. Quite frankly, the novel made me all the more eager to visit the country someday. Maybe this is what instant love feels like. But then, it also broke my heart in more ways that I can imagine. Whether it’s the homophobia, which makes it so hard for Chetan to be comfortable in his own skin despite finding love, or the emotional chasm in the lives of Betty and Solo, Ingrid Persaud takes the reader on a roller coaster ride and makes you fall in love and empathise with the lives of the characters at every stage.
One of the recurring questions in the story, although subconsciously, is whether one can fall in love over and over again, or if there will always be one true love which will be the fulcrum of our lives. Through Ingrid Persaud’s eyes, as we explore the lives of the three principal characters in the story, we slowly begin to come to terms with their desperation and courage – to fall in love; to seek forgiveness; to find a way to heal ourselves even though someone would have broken our heart into a million little pieces.
I read the book over a span of two days, and at one point of time, Ingrid Persaud, who was following my tweets, urged me to slow down and take a break because the story is going to take a dramatic turn. But how does one put down a book which feels so immersive? I empathised with Betty when she tries to make peace with her life as a widow because there’s nothing in the world that she loves than her son Solo. But then, she yearns for love too and fill a void in her life. Then there’s Solo himself, a teenager who is too young to understand the lives of adults and how complex they are. Much later in his life, when he migrates to the US, his tryst with loneliness makes you wonder if he’s on a quest to find a way to love himself again. Because only then will he have the courage to see reason and find empathy. His life in the US is nothing less than a soul-sucking exercise where he resists going back home. Although he starts off this journey to punish his mother, we also see that he’s punishing himself. Does he feel guilty for the actions of his mother? Is this his way of seeking justice? Ingrid Persaud paints both their characters with such a strong sense of emotion that you can’t shake off the feeling that the act of finding love will sometimes tear you apart.
But nothing prepares you to foresee what happens to Chetan. He wants to be loved and finding love as a gay person in Trinidad is not only hard but dangerous too. He knows that Betty and Solo are his safe haven and that he can lead a comfortable life under their roof, but what is life if you don’t love in a manner that you crave for. He knows what he seeks might push him to walk down a dangerous path. If it doesn’t break his heart, something more sinister is likely to happen.
As you flip through the final pages of the novel, ‘Love After Love’ transforms into an exploration of a bigger question – What does it mean to love? Ingrid Persaud finds the bridge that lets the reader walk across a river of tears, joy, and feelings with God playing tricks in the lives of Betty, Solo, and Chetan. Because, like Betty keeps saying, God is love.
‘Love After Love‘ by Ingrid Persaud is the winner of the 2020 Costa First Novel Award.