Love After Love: A Novel
- By Ingrid Persaud
- One World
- 336 pp.
- Reviewed by Erin Guthrie
- August 24, 2020
A vibrant, immersive Caribbean tale about the power of human connection.
It’s a time-honored tradition, a reprieve from our quotidian, workaday lives: a ritualistic refreshing of the cerebrum. Maybe it takes the form of a quiet retreat; or, perhaps, the headlong pursuit of adventure is more your speed. Whichever your preference, odds are good that the constraints of this particular summer have rendered your plans obsolete.
In a year when a getaway to even a favorite nearby haunt may be out of reach, your best bet for finding an escape is within the pages of a transportive work of fiction. Enter Ingrid Persaud’s Love After Love: It’s your passport to Trinidad for the tale of one small found family and all the different shades of love that can imprison and sustain us.
Widow Betty Ramdin and her young son, Solo, have been making it as a twosome for years when they first encounter Mr. Chetan, a solitary man looking to rent a room but uninterested in the business of family. He moves into the Ramdins’ spare space to fulfill a utilitarian need for them all. Yet by luck or fate, what was meant to be a temporary arrangement becomes the three of them — fatherless child, self-possessed working mother, and reserved bachelor — sliding together like interlocking pieces.
It’s only when a secret Betty has harbored since the death of her husband is revealed that their domestic triad explodes. The truth is a crucible that flings them on different trajectories, testing the threads that bind them and leaving one to wonder whether there’s a correlation between the fierceness of love and the magnitude of betrayal.
The backdrop for the intertwining of these relationships — the island of Trinidad — is almost a character itself, given a kind of dispersed sentience through Persaud’s exquisite descriptions. In prose so effortless one imagines the author unscrewing the lid of a jar and simply pouring it out onto the page, Love After Love treats the reader to a sensory riot.
You’ll feel the heat of the equatorial sun on your skin, see the hot dazzle of white before your retinas adjust. The sweet flesh of cascadoux will sit on your tongue like a familiar phrase, while your eyes will water at the fiery aroma of pimento peppers dropped in hot oil. Shocks of color at a Trini-Hindu wedding dance as brightly as a congregation of scarlet ibis or the bacchanal at a national cricket match.
But Persaud’s facility with language would be a mirage of flash and glimmer if it weren’t paired with an instinct for the human condition that comes through from one character to the next, each sharing the same lived-in Trinidadian dialect but bearing their own distinct voices, hearts, and minds.
Love After Love explores the connections we find and foster in liminal spaces and across oceans, love of a sort not often honored with a name. Rarely are platonic and familial love given the vibrancy and immediacy they are here, but as perspectives shift among Betty, Solo, and Mr. Chetan, we’re compelled toward an urgent understanding that the love of comfort and certainty is as important as that of turbulent desire.
If the title’s unspoken implication is that love can end — often in heartbreak — Persaud’s work is emphatic in its reassurance that it can also come again.
Which is not to say that love prevails without struggle. “Remember that laugh and cry does live in the same place,” Mr. Chetan tells Solo at one point. That line feels like a bit of foreshadowing on Persaud’s part, as, before the end of the novel, this lesson will reemerge in the most visceral sense, the narrative heaving with grief where it once burbled with laughter.
Love After Love is an escape worth pursuing, wherever summer finds you. If you’re yearning to run for unfamiliar terrain this time of year, the words on these pages may sharpen that ache. But take heart, dear reader: Ingrid Persaud’s story will transport you, at least for now.
Erin Guthrie is a Smithsonian bioanthropologist by day and an avid reader and happy consumer of the DC literary scene by night. You can find her yammering about books on Instagram at @roostercalls.