During the unusual silence of the first covid19 lockdown in 2020, I received a copy of Love After Love as a gift, with the recommendation that it was a “must-read” book. The gift was from someone who would later become my partner. This was about a week after we had first met.
As I read, I felt I got great insight into two things: the Trinidad of the novel and the man who had given this book to me. It felt as though I was getting to know who he was. In the book’s pages, I could somehow identify the values that would, over time, fortify a bond steeped in the principle of unconditional love and the willingness to try to be better versions of ourselves every day for those we love.
While his sexual orientation is by no means hidden or made vague in the novel by Ingrid Persaud – the author who has roots in Trinidad and Tobago – Mr Chetan being gay, in the grand scheme of the story, makes up, as it should, only a part of his narrative. He is not defined by his sexual orientation, but rather, his character. Throughout the novel, his traits as a loving, compassionate and gentle man stand out. His personality stands in sharp contrast to the opening lines of the book, which paint a vastly different picture of the toxic masculinity embodied by Sunil Ramdin, the husband of one of the novel’s main characters, Betty Ramdin. In Betty’s monologue, which opens the novel, she describes her husband Sunil as a man who “only gave love you could feel. He cuff you down? Honeymoon. He give you a black eye? True love in your tail.”
Mr Chetan, on the other hand, is seen cleaning the home and cooking to share the load Betty bears. He fixes things that are broken, while sharing tender moments with Betty, moments which snowball and are returned in kind by Betty’s wave of unconditional love later on.
Whether it is making Betty a cup of tea, cooking up a pot, giving her a foot rub or sitting with her for long conversations that warmed her heart, Mr Chetan represents a vastly different representation of gay men when compared to what is commonly illustrated in the Caribbean. Persaud delves into his depth, his multi-faceted human nature, his humanity – taking us beyond mere labels.
Mr Chetan represents a vastly different representation of gay men when compared to what is commonly illustrated in the Caribbean.
Chetan’s compassion and tenderness is also shown through his relationship with Betty’s son, Solo, for whom he becomes a father figure when he moves in as a tenant some time after the departure of Sunil Ramdin. From the moment they meet, Mr Chetan carves out time to support Solo and to show empathy: setting an example that Solo would follow in his coming to terms with the issues that arise relating to his mother and father.
Importantly, Persaud also explores Mr Chetan’s yearning for love, a deep and true love amid his feelings of brokenness and loneliness, feelings experienced by many in the LGBTQIA+ community. We see him explore sex – even in a steamy encounter with a stranger at the beach – we see him develop a relationship which puts love to the test, and we see him seeking to explore the possibility of a dream relationship with his first love, Mani.
Unfortunately, the story ends in heartbreak. Mr Chetan dies tragically. Persaud does not directly indicate how he dies, leaving it to speculation and conjecture. We do know he was involved in a love triangle prior to his death. It is an inauspicious end which somehow magnifies the sense of loss.
Yet, the author uses this central character’s death as a conduit through which other ruptures might be healed. It is Mr Chetan’s passing that results in Betty and Solo mending their strained relationship, softening Solo’s heart to the point where he returns to Trinidad and Tobago from the United States where he had gone to seek other opportunities and where his fortunes had not seemed very promising.
In every discussion I have had about this novel – with gay and straight people alike, family members and those I meet in passing – the most constant theme is the heartbreak felt when Mr Chetan, a good, loving soul, is killed. This vastly contrasts with the “boom bye bye” I grew up hearing in Jamaica and elsewhere.
What I am left with is the way Mr Chetan’s experiences throughout the book comprehensively capture – though no account can ever be “complete” – much of the experiences of many gay people in the Caribbean. It is notable that while his sexuality is not made vague in the novel, Mr Chetan himself remains timid about discussing his romantic life in these pages, a touch from Persaud which seems perfectly observed.
I am grateful for this deep, multifaceted illustration of a young, gay Caribbean man, who is seen for much more than whom he loves, and who is seen for his own capacity to love after love after love: to hope beyond hope, to believe in the gift that he himself gives to those around him.
Marshelle Andrew Haseley is a Jamaican writer and assistant digital co-ordinator at Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday. He has also contributed to PANACHE Magazine, MACO People, and Fashion Focus. This post is part of our What I’m Reading series in which we invite readers to give us insight into what they’re reading now.