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Fred d’Aguiar: Dear Future

When he was nine, Red Head ran behind an uncle chopping wood with an axe and was hit on the forehead with the axe. Red Head saw red and bled profusely before seeing black, i.e. passing out. He awakes to a small voice inside his head saying There will be red, then there will be black and then You will listen. There were four. The book is divided into four sections. In the first, in a country which is clearly intended to resemble Guyana, though it is not specifically named, we meet Red Head’s extended family. Red Head lives with his uncles and older brother, as his mother had gone to London with his three younger brothers, nominally for a short while, but she has never returned, while his father has disappeared. He misses his family. Meanwhile he plays draughts well and we hear about the build-up to the next election. The national wrestling champion challenges all-comers to a fight. In short, not much seems to happen, though we do get to meet Red Head’s family and d’Aguiar tells a nice tale of the extended family.

The next section moves to the dictatorial but more less democratically elected president of this country and the problems he faces, starting with his dental problems (which will become something of a metaphor for the rottenness and corruption of his government) but moving on to his re-election problems. It is soon clear that corruption, greed and violence are the hallmark of the administration. The third section tells the story of Red Head’s mother and her sons in London and her relationship with”Uncle Ahmad”, her lover in London, while the last section consists of a few short letters dictated by Red Head to the future, hence the title of the novel.

The four sections are somewhat bitty though, of course, they do hang together but it is d’Aguiar’s affection for the people he describes and his sense that it is the families and not the politicians that will solve the post-colonial problems if they are to be solved that makes this novel worthwhile. He uses the techniques of magic realism as well as a poetic language to achieve his aims and it works well.

Publishing history

First published 1996 by Chatto and Windus