“The waves pushed and retracted in almost an artificial way, as if propelled by some tidal mechanism in the distance, the winds by gigantic fans, oscillating and whirring from beyond the horizon. Gyasi suddenly felt despair… being here on the island was a constant reminder of it. He came here to find a means of escape. The longer he stayed here, the longer he would realize how artificial this is. He needed to fix everything, so he could wake up with bright eyes once again.
So he could scratch his fingers against an early morning grin beneath the tussled blankets.”
Gyasi is looking for a way to make things better. He has left Trinidad and travelled to another island entirely, one fuelled by the power of night, one accessible only through operation and unable to be circumnavigated without risk. This island isn’t, in the strictest of senses, tangible — its beaches won’t provide the familiar heat and revelry associated with a mid-afternoon Maracas lime. It’s safe to suppose that no bake and shark will be vendored on its infinitely less welcoming shores. As Gyasi gingerly picks his way across the sandy wastes, headed in the direction of the lighthouse that hugs a cliff’s sheer edge, he is hoping to find an entirely different sort of sustenance: one that makes it possible for him to live with what he’s done.
Whether Gyasi’s nightmarish littoral-scape is pixellated, painted or Photoshopped, it is evident that the writer has taken considerable care with its construction. The island in “The Silencing” is emblematic: if for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than the gentle reminder that in atoning for one’s sins, one is almost always forced to revisit the scene of the crime. It is refreshing to witness the use of island-symbolisms outside of their typically sanguine contexts. The island itself is an unpromising no man’s terrain, rooted in nothing but an individual’s expectation of redemption. It could be anyplace; it could hold any set of predetermined structures linked to a crime of passion or omission. This is Gyasi’s sunless journey, Hosein is telling us, and we all have our own separate versions.
Stories like “The Silencing” are multilayered, weighty things. There is more to their composition and content than is evident on a first reading, or a second. When they’re allowed to embed themselves in your consciousness, you’ll find yourself unnerved by the methodical clink-clinking of empty, discarded beer bottles, rolling across a deck floor. Statues of little children may prove to be even more disconcerting than usual. Despite the elegaic solemnity of inverted moral contemplations such as this one, a curious kind of hope resonates at its waterlogged chest: we are all, every sin-soaked one of us, capable of accessing forgiveness, whether we deserve it or not.
K. Jared Hosein (1986 -…) has been working on his prose and poetry since his early teenage years. In 2009, he penned a poem entitled “The Wait is So, So Long” that would go on to be adapted as a short film that would be featured and win a Gold Key Award at the NY-based Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. He frequently writes to the local newspapers but those pieces are only of political and sociological nature. Although he is currently employed as a Biology and Physics secondary school teacher, he writes fiction frequently to have a significant body of work, to build discipline and to create his own voice and style in the world of West Indian literature. (Author portrait by Portia Subran.)
Kevin graciously agreed to answer a few questions I had on his writing process; the power of imagination and suggestion, as well as his exciting literary plans in 2013.
Kevin, we’ve discussed before that writing stories set in a Trinidadian environment didn’t always come instinctively to you. What benefits (and, possibly, drawbacks) do you think there are to creating fiction based in your country of origin?
For a long time, I was turned off by the atmosphere of West Indian books. I thought that they were repetitive and focused too much on the same themes, such as cultural identity and post-colonialism. In fact, whenever the words “West Indian literature” or “Caribbean art” crossed my mind, the repulsive image of chickens defecating in a donkey cart came to mind.
However, after attending Elizabeth Nunez’s writing workshop, I became more attuned to the idea that the Caribbean benefits as an “exotic” location, with locations, customs and folklore ripe for the picking. I realised, when the word Caribbean was uttered, that I didn’t have to write the same old “donkey cart story” I was bored with, but magical realism, psychological thriller and science fiction set in Trinidad. Because, why can’t aliens invade Trinidad during Carnival once in a while? Why can’t a serial killer angel visit here to parang? Or with The Silencing, why can’t a man enter a barren, deformed Trinidadian dream coast?
I mentioned in my analysis of “The Silencing” that so much of the text reads as photo-realistic: very clearly depicted. Is clarity important for you as a writer?
When I write, I like the reader to be able to feel every sense the protagonist is experiencing. However, the senses I try to convey the most are the senses of direction and misdirection. Stories to me are magic tricks. The audience’s attention is tantamount to the reaction you wish to elicit. If you cannot grasp the audience’s attention with theatrics and lights, they are not going to be impressed by the reveal. But sometimes the lights have to blind them a little while the trap doors are setting up.
Would you say that these themes of nostalgia, remembrance and forgetting are important to literature? Are any of your favourite books, plays, stories or poems influenced by these ideas?
I compare literature to a time capsule. A book is essentially a means of visiting a certain era or event in history, or what could have been. One of the most triumphant stories, I believe, is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, a sufferer of locked-in syndrome who wrote his memoir by blinking his left eye. In his story, he recounted events and people of his life with equal doses of vivacity and melancholy. Remembrance can be a saving grace and it seems that a story of forgetting, such as The Silencing, always seem to be tragedies.
I’ll ask you a question I put to Shakirah last week: what was the galvanizing moment in your life that made you decide on fiction writing as one of your passions?
This might sound silly, but when I was 11, I watched an episode of Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” The episode entailed a child who could write in a book and the story would come true. The concept stuck with me and I came to the realisation that whatever was written could be true. Well, in the fictional sense. It was still there and could affect others. I wanted to write a book after that. I took some sheets of paper and trimmed them with scissors to the size of those Illustrated Classics and scotched-taped them up. I wrote a story about aliens. When I was 13, I finished my first long story. It was about 90 pages long and it was called “The Devil’s Moon”. It was crap, but it was fun and I felt good to write. And that was most important to me at the time.
Finally, tell us: what current writing projects are you involved in now? Any big plans for 2013?
Right now, I’m working on my entry for National Novel Writing Month, called Wonder Boy. It is about a boy who, after experiencing the crash of a space vessel, discovers how it is directly linked to his family. I’ve put another project on hold, called The Exit. The Exit delves into the paranoia of four students and a teacher after the rest of the school population have suddenly dropped dead, and the exit doors of the school have all vanished.
In 2013, I plan to keep submitting my stories to literary magazines and competitions in hope to gain more traction. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe I’ll have to keep trying. But I’ve been writing for half my life now, and I will be writing no less in 2013 than I have in 2012.
You can read K. Jared Hosein’s “The Silencing” here. (Potbake Productions)
Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email story.sundaysATgmail.com for details.