Under the Tamarind Tree is a family saga, told through the viewpoint of the protagonist, Richard Cheong. While it covers three generations, most of the older generation have already passed away, except for one of Richard’s paternal aunts. Their actions have not only shaped the lives of Richard and his siblings, but also continue to have repercussions in their lives.

Members of the older generation:

James Cheong (Chinese) – Richard’s father, died when Richard was 12

Vijaya Elizabeth Cheong (East Indian) – Richard’s mother, died when Richard was 13

Gladys Tiam-Fook nee Cheong (Chinese) – Deceased older sister of James Cheong

Ormond Tiam-Fook (Chinese) – Husband of Gladys Tiam-Fook, deceased

Bernice Lee-a-Shoo nee Cheong (Chinese) – Younger sister of James Cheong, a widow – owner of the Lee-a-Shoo Hardware Store where Richard works

Mama Chips (black) – Richard’s surrogate mother following the death of his own mother

The people in Richard’s life are racially diverse—a reflection of the multiracial Guyanese society, legacy of its European colonial past of slavery and indentureship. As a penniless orphan and low-paid member of the working class, Richard Cheong is a man of little means. Through marriage, his three sisters have moved up in life.

Richard’s sisters and their husbands:

Mildred Gomes nee Cheong – Richard’s eldest sister and antagonist of novel

Francis Gomes (Portuguese) – Mildred’s husband, business owner

Irene Gladstone nee Cheong – Richard’s second eldest sister

Peter Gladstone (white) – Irene’s husband, British bank manager

Evelyn Yhap nee Cheong – Richard’s youngest sister and the one closest to him

David Yhap (Chinese) – Evelyn’s husband, business owner

Edward Cheong (deceased) – Richard’s younger brother, called Eddie, murdered at eight years old

The family saga begins when Richard is twenty-five years old, married, and father of three girls with another child on the way.

Richard’s family and in-laws:

Gloria Cheong nee Henry (mixed race) – Richard’s wife

Mary Elizabeth Cheong – Richard’s firstborn child, called Lizzie

Rita Cheong – Richard’s second child

Susan Cheong – Richard’s youngest child

Winston Henry (black) – Richard’s father-in-law, officer in the Police Force

Dorothy Henry (Portuguese) – Richard’s mother-in-law, seamstress

Richard’s close friends also reflect the racial diversity of the population in Georgetown, the capital city. I’ve indicated their connections to Richard’s family members and in-laws.

Wesley Clarke (black) – Richard’s best friend, his wife’s cousin-in-law

Lachman Singh (East Indian) – High school teacher and political activist

David Yhap (Chinese) – Richard’s brother-in-law, introduced Lachman to Richard

Percival Tiam-Fook (Chinese) – Relative of husband of Richard’s Aunt Gladys Tiam-Fook

Manoel de Freitas (Portuguese) – Married to niece of Dorothy Henry, Richard’s mother-in-law

During our childhood years, growing up in Georgetown, Guyana, my four siblings and I were always surrounded by many relatives (from both sides of our family), close friends of my father, and friendly neighbors. There was never a shortage of kids our age to play with. The neighborhood was our playground. That all changed after the “racial disturbances,” as they were called, in the 1960s. Most of the people we grew up with fled to overseas havens in Britain, Canada, and the United States. Their loss remains with me to this day.

The captioned photo shows the Georgetown Seawall and roadway connecting the capital with villages along the East Coast Demerara.