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UNDER THE TAMARIND TREE: A NOVEL
CREATING THE SETTING
I enjoy the research process. It not only helps me to re-create the social, economic, and political
conditions of the world in which my characters live and relate with each other, but it also facilitates my
development of the individual characters who will inhabit that world. You can check out my Selected
Research Resources to learn more about the books, official records, and online resources that served as
Old photographs of then British Guiana were also an invaluable resource in entering the world of Richard
Cheong, the protagonist of Under the Tamarind Tree. Godfrey Chin’s Nostalgias: Golden Memories of
Guyana 1940 to 1980 (2007) brought Richard’s world to life.
Trev Sue-A-Quan’s books, Cane Reapers: Chinese Indentured Immigrants in Guyana (1999, 2003, 2017)
and Cane Ripples: The Chinese in Guyana (2003) expanded my knowledge of the Chinese community
and the lives of its prominent members of those early years. My paternal, Chinese grandfather was long
dead when I was born. We had no connections with my father’s Chinese relatives. The Chinese men in my
life were close friends of my father. Our landlord, who lived next door, was Chinese: He was obsessed with
having a daughter. Three marriages gifted him with six sons, but no girl-child.
The struggle for independence, celebrated on May 26, 1966, and subsequent years of economic
hardships splintered our lives. It could be no different for Richard Cheong, his family, and his friends. The
racial violence during those years of struggle—perpetrated by both blacks and East Indians, making up
the majority of the population—has left deep wounds in the psyche of the Guyanese people. Rancor
corrodes trust. Forgiveness belongs to the generous of heart.
At an early stage in the writing process, I decided to give fictitious names to the leaders of the three major
political parties, at the time. As the author of a work of fiction, it is not my intention to demonize any
individual politician or political party. There’s lots of guilt to go around on all parties. It is my hope that,
through the lives of my fictional characters, the reader can come to a better understanding of the ways in
which divisive racial politics can fracture our communities and families.
Against this tumultuous setting, Richard Cheong must also deal with the bitter fruit sown by his deceased
father’s deception that led to Richard’s abandonment and impoverishment at the age of thirteen. We reap
what we sow. Individuals and nations alike.
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Under the Tamarind Tree is set in Guyana, the land of my birth, during the period
1950 to 1970. Although I recall isolated events of the “racial disturbances” of the
1960s, I was too young to understand the struggle of my parents’ generation for
independence from Britain. I remember heated, alcohol-fueled arguments among the
grown-ups around us about which political party was best for our country. Favorites
varied, depending upon their racial allegiance.
As I discovered during my research, the choice of the majority did not count. The
British and American governments had already made that decision. There would not
be another communist government in America’s backyard.