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Neil Bissoondath: A Casual Brutality

The novel is set on the fictional island of Casaquemada (Spanish for Burnt House) which may or may not be Trinidad. Dr. Raj Ramsingh is from Casaquemada but has done his medical training in Canada. He returned to Casaquemada but is now planning to leave the island again. When he left, the island was enjoying an economic boom but now it has descended into chaos. The president and his henchmen practice casual brutality. The book is told in flashbacks so that we gradually learn about Ramsingh’s earlier life and, in particular, the traditional way of life of his family. He left to study medicine but also to avoid falling into his family’s way of life (he was expected to take over his grandfather’s shop). His return was not something thought out but almost casual. But the current situation – fueled by greed from the oil boom – is typified by his cousin, who had studied law but is now running guns. The picture that Bissoondath paints of brutality, greed, corruption and racism is bleak and the story can only end badly for Ramsingh. Unlike his his uncle or his cousin, Bissoondath’s vision leaves little hope and few redeeming characters but he tells the grim story well.

Publishing history

First published by Macmillan of Canada in 1988