- The Flour Convoy by Chaitram Singh
The Flour Convoy is a damning story about the plight of a country facing a government that has self-induced its own destruction through rampant and systemic corruption. In many ways, it is a recapitulation of the post-colonial experience of many Third World countries. Written by Chaitram Singh, Professor of Government at Berry College, the novel won a Guyana Prize for Literature in 2012 as the Best First Work of Fiction. The Guyana Prizes for Literature were founded by President Desmond Hoyte in 1987 to promote and honor the development of local literature.
Singh’s novel follows the intertwining stories of Army Captain Alan Moore, an honest man trying to serve his country honorably, and Army Chief of Staff General Clive Agrippa, an egomaniac who takes advantage of his position whenever possible. Agrippa cheats on his wife; assaults his pregnant paramour, causing a hemorrhage [End Page 257] which results in an abortion; orders the killing of his wife’s suspected lover; and participates in so many corrupt and fraudulent practices and schemes that the perpetrator himself loses count. Moore, however, would never consider engaging in any of Agrippa’s scandalous and unethical actions.
The equally corrupt political system capitalizes on Agrippa’s misdeeds and elicits from him a pledge of allegiance to the political party in power and a commitment to use the army in the rigging of national elections to ensure continued political power. Against their personal preferences and ethical standards, Moore and his junior officers comply with orders and aid in the circumvention of the democratic process. The disposal of ballot boxes, however, quickly becomes problematic when some of them are hidden at Moore’s home. Ironically, it is this rigging scheme that convinces Moore to abandon his homeland and flee into exile.
The Flour Convoy is unique in the corpus of post-colonial literature in that it makes the military the central focus of the novel. Other award-winning novels have dealt with authoritarian systems, but have treated the military in a tangential way. Chinua Achebe’s Anthills in the Savannah, for example, addresses the plight of intellectuals in a military-run system; V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River shows how authoritarian misrule radiates from the political center to the periphery; and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy dramatizes the depredations and pointlessness of civil war. Singh’s novel, on the other hand, captures the almost incestuous relationship between an authoritarian political regime and the military. All too often, this scenario has been replicated throughout the Third World. Singh uses the term convoy both as a descriptive term for military movements [End Page 258] and also as a metaphor for transporting the reader into the military and governmental halls of corruption and power. As such, the novel is reminiscent of A Bend in the River in that it portrays how the predatory and corruptive practices at the center impinge on the lives of average citizens living on the periphery.
This reader-friendly novel is firmly grounded in the genre of post-colonial fiction and could be a valuable complement to university courses dealing with contemporary studies of Third World political systems. It is a work of political fiction that challenges the central tenets of dependency theorists who posit that the current underdevelopment of former European colonies is to be blamed on the subordinate status of Third World nations within the international capitalist system. Singh’s novel emphatically rejects that approach and reveals that corrupt and predatory local leaders are to blame for under-development. The exploitative actions of many Third World drive well-meaning and capable people into exile, which further weakens the nation state. As Moore and his family are flying off into exile, he reflects on his reasons for abandoning his homeland. “It had not been a fascination with New York that had stolen his love of home and made him outbound. It was the betrayal of local leaders, self-indulgent and corrupt, that forced him and so many others to look for hope elsewhere. It was their drive for power and...