“The Sly Company of People who Care” by Rahul Bhattacharya (2011) -278 pages
“The Sly Company of People who Care” is a love song / story to the country of Guyana. Guyana is a country in the northeastern corner of South America that is so forlorn and forsaken that most of the white people have left. Let the party begin.
First Bhattacharya in a note breaks down the population of Guyana as follows :
East Indians 43.5 %
(These are the descendants of the coolies and
indentured laborers from India who came
after slavery was abolished in Guyana in 1838.)
Africans 30.2 %
(These are the descendants of the slaves who had
been brought here before slavery was abolished.)
Mixed Race 16.7 %
Amerindians (the original indigenous people) 9.2 %
Portuguese 0.2 %
Chinese 0.19 %
White 0.06 %
The author himself is from modern India, an Indian national who apparently as a group don’t make up even a recordable percentage of the population of Guyana.
“The Sly Company of People Who Care” celebrates “the remarkable freedom of a forgotten and irrelevant place on earth.” This is a fun humorous novel to read. It is not often that an author captures the spirit of a whole country in the pages of one book, but somehow Bhattacharya manages it. Guyana shares the relaxed looseness of those tropical islands in the Caribbean Sea like Trinidad and Martinique.
“Guyana had the feel of an accidental place. Partly it was the epic indolence. Partly it was the ethnic composition. In the slang of the street there were chinee, putagee, buck, coolie, blackman, and the combinations emanating from these, a separate and larger lexicon. On the ramble in such a land you could encounter a story every day.”
Much of this novel is told on the ramble, perhaps a long boat trip to Kaieteur which happens to be the largest single drop waterfalls in the world, but which tourists rarely visit due to its location in Guyana. And everywhere our narrator meets the diverse persons of Guyana who are maybe the friendliest and most unpretentious people in the world. Conversations are in the native Guyana patois.
“The Sly Company of People Who Care” is not a novel you read for its sustaining plot, since it does not have one. You read this book for its carefree welcoming tropical spirit which is far removed from the tense, over-worked civilized parts of the world. What comes across strongly is Battacharya’s fondness for this land of Guyana and its people.
Another writer who wrote of this part of the world is Nobel prize winner V. S. Naipaul who is from Trinidad. “Sly Company” reminded me of Naipaul’s early works such as “Miguel Street” and “The Mystic Masseur”, both of which have this same tropical spirit.
I recommend this novel to readers who like exotic locations and people. It has the ambience of a wild island vacation.