Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on A Perfect Pledge.
Rabindranath Maharaj grabbed attention with his first novel, The Lugahoo’s Apprentice, and followed that success with another outstanding work of literature, Homer in Flight. By gifting us with the exuberant tale of Narpat, a sugarcane farmer in the village of Lengua, Maharaj proves that the accolades are truly justified.
As the story begins, Narpat awaits the birth of his fourth child. With three daughters already, Narpat refuses to admit that he is hoping for a son. He has even lectured his misogynistic neighbors about the foolish notions of male superiority, but the villagers are used to such eccentric ideas from Narpat.
Claims of disinterest aside, Narpat is quietly thrilled when the boy child arrives and sets about training his son’s body and mind according to Narpat’s own unique philosophy. Whether or not the regimen is really building strength and character in his offspring, Narpat has full confidence in his own wisdom. He is critical of friends, family, neighbors, and total strangers for their lazy and lacking ways. He despises any attempt to complicate the good life with such wasteful substances as sweets and alcohol, or modern conveniences such as electricity. Narpat considers himself a man of substance and is determined to do his duty, both to his community and to his family.
Pomposity makes Narpat no less likeable, however. Though his pronouncements may be extreme, his beliefs unfounded and his edicts uncomfortable, Narpat remains as devoted husband and father who is determined to provide the necessities of every aspect of life to those who depend upon him.
Inspired by grand visions, Narpat’s every effort falls far short of perfection. The home he builds for his family sits atilt, his windmill-powered factory operates like a cartoon gadget; even his successful ruin for public office ends in animosity and more of the same failure as those who went before him.
As the novel progresses, we watch Narpat’s family grow and change, each affected by and reacting to the strict rules and stern opinions in different ways. Most touching, perhaps, is the changing shows of devotion young Jeevan displays toward his doting parent throughout the years. Like all families, this one operates with its own dynamics and dysfunctions, yet still reminds us that some things –and some outcomes—are common to all close-knit groups.
Maharaj is a master of character, from the subtle personality quirks revealed to us through other characters’ eyes to the finely conveyed idioms and inflections of the islander. Perhaps the author’s most exciting skill is his ability to give flesh to Narpat and the people of his world, making each moment of their lives a complex and captivating image of humanity in all its contradictory nature.
Wildly entertaining, sweetly poignant and deftly structured, A Perfect Pledge is a story that will linger in the reader’s mind and engender craving for Maharaj’s next work.