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THE MAKING OF UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE
A NOVEL BY ROSALIENE BACCHUS
capital of the Northeast State of Ceará, to return to Guyana, the land of our birth. By that time, he was
already living with a Brazilian woman who had borne him a daughter. He had abandoned them, too.
What had I done to deserve such treatment from my mother and husband? It took me four years, while
working on Under the Tamarind Tree, to realize that my crime was not living up to their expectations.
Broken over the estrangement with my mother, I started a journal as a form of self-therapy. By August
2004, I decided to fictionalize my story of overcoming adversity in Brazil. In September 2007, the plot for
my first novel, to be set in Brazil and Guyana, took an unexpected turn after I read the poetry collection
of a young Guyanese American poet. The collection shook my Guyanese roots.
During my twenty-year absence, Guyana’s racial divisive politics had grown deadlier. I knew then, with
clarity, that I had to address the divisive racial birth pangs of our young nation. Richard Cheong—son of
a Chinese father and East Indian mother, with an African surrogate mother at thirteen years old, following
the death of his parents—was the best person to tell that story. A male protagonist. Was I up to the
Richard Cheong’s family reflects my own multiracial family. His wife, Gloria, is the daughter of descendants
of African slaves and Portuguese indentured laborers. While Richard bears some character traits of my
own father—loves reading and listening to music, with several friends across racial lines—he’s a fictional
character obsessed with finding redemption for the death of his younger brother, Edward, then eight
years old, found murdered under the tamarind tree on the sugar estate road.
When we seek answers to the adversity we confront in our lives, we may discover forces outside of our
control. Like Mary Elizabeth Cheong, Richard’s firstborn child, we must partake in the bitter fruit of deceit
sown by a grandparent or other relatives. In then British Guiana, until its independence from Britain on
May 26, 1966, the coming together of diverse cultures—Amerindian (the indigenous peoples), African,
Chinese, European, and Indian—amplifies conflicts that fracture our families and communities. We all
share the blame. We all share the loss and pain.
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When my two sons and I migrated to the United States in October 2003 to unite
with my family, I expected challenges in adapting to a different culture and work
environment. After over thirty years of separation, I never expected that my mother
would abandon us on our third day of arrival in Los Angeles. How could I dare to say
no to her plans for me, after all she had done to bring us to the United States? She
exploded like my deceased father had done during an alcohol-fueled rage. I didn’t
change my stance. She moved out. Defiance can be costly and painful.
Abandonment had pursued me from Brazil. The father of my sons had done the
same. After four years of failing to earn a living income, he left us in Fortaleza,