Originally published in Compulsive Reader
Being a middle-aged single Indian mother is hard enough without throwing the secret of your husband’s death, and your love for a gay friend into the mix. This is the melee Trinidad-born, London-bred novelist Ingrid Persaud brings us into with her emotionally-driven world of characters in her debut novel, Love After Love. Just as captivating as her first short story “The Sweet Sop,” which went on the win both the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2017 and the BBC National Short Story Award in 2018, Love After Love is a stirring novel refreshingly told in Trinidadian vernacular and examines various iterations of love in an unconventional East Indian family of a mother, her young son, and their gay lodger who quickly becomes an integral part of their lives.
Set in modern-day Trinidad and New York City, Love After Love follows the lives of these three individuals as they each struggle to find, understand, and hold on to their idea of love. In a society bestrewed with varying levels of barriers that traumatize and impede them on their respective journeys, they face a plethora of issues including immigration, homophobia, and domestic violence. Persaud’s lachrymose prose further discusses the physical, mental, and emotional burden of loneliness in the absence of love.
The story’s protagonist, Betty Ramdin, lives a tumultuous life. A woman who endured years of abuse from her husband before his death, Betty continuously searches for affection in the men closest to her – her son Solo and their house companion, Mr. Chetan. As a middle-aged widowed woman living in a post-colonial Caribbean country, Betty understands that despite her desire for love, tradition dictates otherwise. She understands that the community still expects her to be in perpetual mourning for her husband, despite his abusive demeanor in life.
Persaud, who was born and raised in Trinidad in an East Indian home herself, draws heavily from this culture in her development of Betty’s character. Betty’s own insecurities and fear of being judged by society play out throughout the novel, rearing its head even amongst her closest friends who question her decision to stay with an abusive husband for all those years when he was alive. “Where I was going to go? Who else would want me and my small child? My own mother said licks showed Sunil loved me,” she tells her best friend as they cleaned Sunil’s grave for All Souls’ day.
The sense of duty and tradition supersedes any personal emotion and desire, and Persaud illustrates this well through her characters. Even though Betty’s friend, Deedee, is adamant that they should not be cleaning the grave of a wife-beater, Betty stood her ground, understanding that women in her position do not always get what they want. “You not doing it for him. You doing it so nobody can point their finger and say all kind of thing about me.”