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Maharaj, Rabindranath 1955–

Maharaj, Rabindranath 1955–

PERSONAL: Born 1955, in Trinidad; immigrated to Canada, early 1990s. Education: University of the West Indies, B.A., M.A., diploma in education; University of New Brunswick, M.A. (creative writing), 1993.

ADDRESSES: Home—Ajax, Ontario, Canada. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Sq. W., New York, NY 10003.

CAREER: Trinidad Guardian, Trinidad, West Indies, journalist; teacher in Trinidad; high school teacher in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, 1994–. Cofounder of Lichen (literary magazine).

AWARDS, HONORS: Shortlisted for the Commonwealth writer's prize, 2006, for A Perfect Pledge.

WRITINGS:

The Interloper (stories), Goose Lane (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), 1995.

The Writer and His Wife and Other Stories, Peepal Tree (Leeds, Yorkshire, England), 1996.

Homer in Flight (novel), Goose Lane (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), 1997.

The Lagahoo's Apprentice (novel), Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

The Book of Ifs and Buts: Stories, Vintage Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

A Perfect Pledge (novel), Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Several of Rabindranath Maharaj's stories relate to the immigrant experience, specifically that of Caribbean islanders who move to Canada, Maharaj's adopted country. The Interloper consists of fourteen short stories, many of which are studies in race relations. The characters must learn to adjust to their new homeland while balancing unemployment, racism, and feelings of displacement. The characters find that much of life is determined by what effort is put into it. The title of the book comes from characters believing they are viewed as interlopers by native Canadians. Susan Patrick, writing in the Canadian Book Review Annual, called the collection "sensitive and heartfelt," containing stories "with which most readers will be able to identify in one way or another." Quill and Quire contributor Olive Senior observed that the characters in Maharaj's stories are "real people" dealing with real problems, noting that "Maharaj writes with skill and honesty."

Maharaj's Homer in Flight deals with the experiences of a Caribbean immigrant in Toronto. Racism again plays an important part in this first full-length novel, where characters are denied basic courtesies because of the color of their skin. In this story, Homer exits Trinidad only to find Canada and its problems quite similar to what he left behind. Lorna Jackson, who reviewed the book for Quill & Quire, wrote that "Maharaj handles Homer's struggle to locate nostalgia, to reconcile family ties, with insight."

The protagonist of The Lagahoo's Apprentice is Stephen Sagar, a writer who travels from his present home in Canada to his native Trinidad to write the biography of retired politician Edwin Rampartap, or Mr. Ram. His driver takes Stephen to Mr. Ram's lush estate, Rougeleau, which means "red water," possibly for the river that ran red from the blood of slain animals or slaves. Stephen is uncomfortable with Ram in the snake-infested former sugar cane plantation and goes to his family home and to the beach for an extended period, visiting with friends, having an affair, and collecting seashells for his daughter in Canada. He meets the reclusive man he believed as a boy to be a lagahoo, or shapeshifter, and discovers that he and everyone around him is in essence a shapeshifter. He travels back to Rougeleau with the intention of returning his advance and finds that things have changed. People have come and gone, and the politics of island independence hang heavy in the air. Looking at the island in a new light, he considers whether he should complete the assignment.

J.M. Bridgeman wrote in a review for January Online that "The Lagahoo's Apprentice is about time, change, death, grief, reality, order, chaos, politics, sexuality, mythology, identity and spirituality…. This is a story about consilience, conjunction, the fusion of everything. Maharaj shows us that every man is an island, volcanic, attached to the molten core of the Earth, from which mud bubbles up, eternally birthing, ever growing." Describing The Lagahoo's Apprentice as "a well-crafted novel," Canadian Literature reviewer Stella Algoo-Baksh thought the work "an invaluable addition both to Canadian writing and to immigrant writing in general."

The Book of Ifs and Buts: Stories begins with a novella and ends with the title story. Though admitting "some weakness … in the middle," Kuldip Gill, who reviewed the collection for Canadian Literature Online, wrote that "Maharaj's often superb story telling and writing skills, his use of Caribbean dialect which he writes deftly, and his honesty, make me recommend this remarkable book."

A Perfect Pledge, set in the 1960s, is Maharaj's novel about Trinidadian sugarcane farmers in their newly independent land. Jeeves is the youngest son of Narpat, a Lengua villager who is critical of his neighbors and hard on his own family. His moral code excludes the use of alcohol, spoiling of children with gifts, fancy clothes, or what he considers to be excessive school supplies. Narpat runs for the county council and wins on his promise to moralize the region, but as Deborah Donovan noted in Booklist, "Maharaj's insightful saga ponders what Narpat gave up to maintain his high moral code." While calling A Perfect Pledge "something of a mess," a Kirkus Reviews critic nonetheless found the book "packed lushly with close observation and ringing with Trinidadians' vernacular speech."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 2005, Deborah Donovan, review of A Perfect Pledge, p. 65.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1996, Susan Patrick, review of The Interloper, p. 187.

Canadian Literature, spring, 2002, Stella Algoo-Baksh, review of The Lagahoo's Apprentice, p. 170.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2005, review of A Perfect Pledge, p. 759.

Publishers Weekly, August 8, 2005, review of A Perfect Pledge, p. 212.

Quill and Quire, July, 1995, Olive Senior, review of The Interloper, p. 50; May, 1997, Lorna Jackson, review of Homer in Flight, p. 37.

ONLINE

Canadian Literature Online, http://www.canlit.ca/ (March 20, 2006), Kuldip Gill, review of The Book of Ifs and Buts: Stories.

January Online, http://www.janmag.com/ (November, 2000), J.M. Bridgeman, review of The Lagahoo's Apprentice.

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