- Butterﬂy in the Wind
Lakshmi Persaud's debut novel, Butterfly in the Wind, fills a vacuum in the Caribbean literary tradition, as Persaud is among the first Caribbean women of East Indian descent to publish a novel. In many ways Persaud's novel is closely aligned to other works of fiction in the West Indian canon: Butterfly in the Wind is a novel of maturation and is at least partly autobiographical and thus reminiscent of novels such as Merle Collins's Angel and Erna Brodber's Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home. Like her Indo-Caribbean male counterparts, Persaud engages with the specific experience of the East Indian Trinidadian in colonial and postcolonial Trinidad. Butterfly in the Wind also explores a number of recurring themes in Caribbean fiction: the creolization process, colonial education, the interface between tradition and modernity, and the special experience of the woman in an era of change. In this last area Persaud provides a compelling account of the special coming-of-age experience of the East Indian Trinidadian woman, with an accent on the challenges she faces in walking the "tightrope" of Hindu tradition and soon to be modern Trinidadian creole society.
While Persaud's novel shares with fiction by many other contemporary Caribbean women writers an interrogation of traditional attitudes toward women, an ambivalent response to Caribbean culture, a critique of colonial education, and an engagement with history, the novel's style is in some ways unlike the apparent trend in narratives by Caribbean women. Although she deploys the first-person narrative perspective that is frequently used by many Caribbean women writers, instead of the introspective tone that dominates most of these women's narratives, Persaud opts for a more detached narrative voice that often seems akin to that of an essayist, social commentator, or newspaper columnist; and the reader hears perhaps too much overt opining and excessive authorial intrusion. Very little is implied, and the reader feels almost cheated of the opportunity to draw conclusions, [End Page 176] since the author has done much of the analysis already. In its treatment of language Butterfly in the Wind also departs from stylistic trends of Caribbean women's fiction; often Caribbean women writers include creole as part of dialogue and, in many instances, narration. Standard English is the dominant language of both narrative and dialogue in this novel. And while there are a few allusions to Hindu folktales, Caribbean oral tradition—another prominent feature of Caribbean fiction and specifically Caribbean women's fiction—is conspicuously absent. While this is not a measure of the novel's quality, it is certainly noteworthy in the context of contemporary trends in Caribbean women's fiction.
Butterfly in the Wind traces the life of its protagonist-narrator, Kamla, from early childhood to early adulthood, emphasizing her awareness of her sociocultural environment. Much of Kamla's early life is spent with a community of women in her immediate environment: her mother, a businesswoman and traditional Indo-Caribbean matriarch (who is reminiscent of Mrs. Tulsie in V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas); her older sister, Maya; her grandmother; and the family's domestic helpers Renee and Daya. Kamla is part of an extended family, and, like many Caribbean children of relative privilege, she is partly raised by and therefore has close ties with her female caregivers.
Kamla finds herself at a pivotal moment in Trinidadian history, one that sees changes in the place and role of the Indo-Caribbean woman in the society. Kamla has access to education, and the reader journeys with her through the elementary and high school systems. The story ends when she boards a plane en route to Ireland, where she will attend university. Kamla's departure marks another turning point in the lives of East Indian women. Indeed, she breaks ground by being the first female from her community to leave the island in pursuit of higher education. Her extended family commemorates this moment with a family gathering that includes prayer and blessing. A motorcade of five cars...