He Drown She in the Sea

Patty Osborne

British books and movies are some of the best exposés of the evils and absurdities of the class system, but a new book by a Canadian introduces another class system. In Shani Mootoo’s novel He Drown She in the Sea (McClelland & Stewart), the main characters’ lives begin on a tiny Caribbean island where the lowest class consists of the Africans who were taken there as slaves. Most of the rest of the island’s inhabitants are people who immigrated from India as indentured labourers for the British and who shake their heads at African ways, while observing a complex system of class rules within their own community. Harry is an Indian who, through a twist of fate, has been raised in a fishing village among Africans. He befriends Rose, whose well-to-do Indian parents employ Harry’s mother as a domestic servant. As the two children grow up, they are pushed far apart by social expectations and are separated when Harry leaves for Canada. Rose takes longer to react to the oppressive demands made by both her husband and her society, but in the end she too escapes. Mix in a love story and a surprise ending and you won’t want to stop reading.

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