I found it hard to believe that this was Ingrid Persaud’s first published novel, as If I Never Went Home reads like an author very comfortable with expressing her cross-cultural identity to readers.
If I Never Went Home features two female protagonists, thirty-something Bea who has moved to Boston from Trinidad and a teenaged Tina still living there. From chapter to chapter, Persaud takes us back and forth between Boston and Trinidad in the past and present. While this technique was a bit unnerving for me, it served to highlight the turmoil both physical and mental that is an underlying theme in the book.
The author was courageous enough to deal with the subject of mental health and depression in a compassionate way that highlighted the ever present belief that black people don’t attempt suicide, need therapy and certainly don’t go into mental hospitals. She took me inside Bea’s head and I felt her struggle and her pain. Bea’s work to get help and reclaim her life was a sometimes heart wrenching process to read. Tina is no less troubled with numerous questions about her identity, the need to fit in with her peers, belong to her family and discover the past that keeps growing more distant as she ages.
I was saddened that none of the black male figures in the story were positive figures. All of the men were the catalyst for the pain of the three generations of women in the story. Many of the men died or disappeared without resolution adding to the pain so evident in the women. It would have been nice to have one of the men who represented a positive image of a black Caribbean man.
If I Never Went Home reminded me that moving to America remains the dream of many islanders. It also reinforced the notion that Caribbean people don’t resolve things we just move away and move on. Clearly pain does not need a visa and followed Bea to her life in Boston.
Going home should be about resolution but its a struggle for Bea to confront her mother who remains painfully angry. Thankfully the book does not end before the Tina and Bea meet and discover they share much more than inner turmoil. Even into the final lines of the book we are discovering new information from their past and you can’t help but root for them to have a brighter future as the story closes.
Aside from the use of profanity, If I Never Went Home was an enjoyable read and I look forward to seeing more novels by Ingrid Persaud.