Caribbean novelist Kevin Jared Hosein’s third novel Hungry Ghosts is set in Trinidad “sometime in the 1940s”. It follows a disparate group of connected characters who are united only in tragedy, as inter-generational traumas, illicit desire and class divides come into play.
The book opens with four boys making a blood oath. Two of these, Krishna and Tarak, are cousins who live with their families in a shanty commune known as the Barrack. The other two, Rudra and Rustam are the sons of a notorious man and have their own bad reputation. Their connection and their interactions with other village children will run through the book. But they are not the only focus. Krishna’s father Hansraj works for the wealthy Dalton Changoor and his beautiful wife Marlee at their property. When Dalton goes missing and Marlee starts to be threatened, she asks Hans to be a night guard for her, a job that increasingly puts a strain on his marriage to Shweta and his relationship with Krishna. All of these stories, and those of a number of other residents of the Barrack and beyond, impinge on each other and slowly build to a series of cascading tragedies.
Hosein ranges across many points of view in Hungry Ghosts but he never loses the thread of the many stories that are intersecting with each other. He seeds mysteries into these stories early on and then deploys their resolution often in devastating ways. In doing so he takes readers deep into the lives of the inhabitants of the Barrack and the Changoor estate and reveals the striving that lives at the heart of all of his characters and the pain caused when they reach for what they want. All of this told in a luminous, often confronting prose such as this about the Barrack:
The three lived in a sugarcane estate barrack. These barracks were scattered like half-buried bones across the plain, strewn from their colonial corpse. In their marrow, the ghosts of the indentured. And the offspring of those ghosts. This particular barrack sat by its lonesome, raw and jagged as a yanked tooth…
At the heart of Hungry Ghosts is the legacy of colonialism, the social inequities it entrenched and the injustices that this engendered. While often beautifully and startlingly told, Hungry Ghosts is a dark novel full of acts of violence, both small and large, betrayal and pain. But it is deeply felt and achingly observed and as such is likely to remain with readers for some time after the last page.
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed
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Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed.