Mona remembers all too clearly the night of the big row in the house on Manahambre Road, back on her native island of Trinidad. Da-da, driven into a drunken rage by Muddie’s refusal to sell their home, seemed ready to kill Mona’s nine-year-old brother, Kello. That was when everything changed, when they began, as Muddie said, pitching about from pillar to post. Now, 35 years later, Kello lies dying in a Toronto hospice, and Mona must confront her own past, as well as the secrets of a winding family history begun on the Indian continent almost two centuries ago.
The Swinging Bridge marks the debut of Ramabai Espinet, a poet and a writer with an immensely talented voice. Hers is a sweeping generational novel of an Indian family from Trinidad, part of a vital but uneasy cultural mix on the island that also includes blacks and whites. Espinet gives us Mona, the story’s narrator, who tries to maintain the calm at the center of her family’s storm, as grandparents, parents, and siblings scatter themselves around the world, some searching for success, others escaping from their turbulent past and a tortuous history of indenture and poverty. On the urging of her brother, Mona returns from Canada to the island of her birth, unleashing a torrent of memories, shocking childhood secrets and the key to the mystery surrounding the origins of her great-grandmother.
The Swinging Bridge is a story of belonging and displacement, a beautifully layered tale of race and rage, of love and shame, and the sometimes unbearable but inexorable bonds that define a family. A tale steeped in the poetic rhythms and lyrical lilt of Caribbean life, The Swinging Bridge is a unique and unforgettable portrait of the immigrant experience.