On our reading radar – Dec 2023

The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh by Ingrid Persaud
(Faber, ISBN 978-0571386499, 480pp)

If the last novel by Ingrid Persaud, 2020’s acclaimed Love After Love, was a book urgently about the contemporary Caribbean, specifically Trinidad and Tobago, then her next book is a radical departure. The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh promises to be a work of historical fiction, based on the real-life story of the notorious criminal Boysie Singh, whose infamous gang terrorised the waters between Trinidad and Venezuela between 1947  and 1956 and who is believed to be possibly responsible for hundreds of murders.

All novels, whether they are dystopian tales set in the distant or not-too-distant future, fantasy stories in invented worlds, or magical realist narratives, are, one way or another, about the present. This is particularly true when it comes to historical fiction which is never just about the past; all historical novels are about the present. When Love After Love was published in 2020, the role played by violence in the narrative was, even among the book’s ardent admirers, controversial, with some feeling it punitive in relation to a central LGBTQ character, and others noting violence is, in reality, a fact of life for all on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago today. With The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh, Persaud throws down the gauntlet and looks to a factual figure largely defined by his horrific acts of violence, but this choice of subject matter alone invites us to consider the role of crime within Caribbean society then and now.

As with her earlier book, the narrative shifts between alternating perspectives of different characters –Popo, Mana Lala, Doris and Rosie. At a moment when crime, murder and violence, particularly towards women, remain live issues in contemporary Trinidad and Tobago, there is a power in decentering the historical narrative this way so that it is both a mirror and an invention. There are many novels to look out for in 2024, including by figures as diverse as Monique Roffey (Passiontide) and Donna Hemans (The House of Plain Truth), but if the recent Peepal Tree Press reissuing of a landmark work of reportage on Singh is anything to go by, expect The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh to generate much discussion, particularly among those familiar with the story.


—Andre Bagoo, managing editor

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