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The Ventriloquist's Tale

The Ventriloquist's Tale
Pauline Melville
357 pages

Not only do we Indians know how to make ourselves attractive. We are also brilliant at divining what you would like to hear and saying it, so you can never be really sure what we think. ... Ventriloquism at its zenith. (p. 354)


Pauline Melville's debut novel is a multi-generational story of Amerindian people in Guyana. One thread in this novel focuses on Chofy McKinnon, a young man who leaves his rural village for the city of Georgetown, to find work that will support his wife and young son. In Georgetown he falls passionately for Rosa, a European woman visiting the country to conduct research. Chofy feels out of place in Georgetown, and escapes from his discomfort by spending most of his free time with Rosa in her bedroom.

Partway through Chofy's story, the reader is transported back in time to the early 1900s, when Chofy's Scottish grandfather first settled in the village, married two sisters, and fathered several children. Most of the novel centers on two of McKinnon senior's children: Beatrice and Danny, and on an English priest who traversed the country baptizing children and converting adults.

The story itself was interesting, if somewhat predictable, but Melville's descriptive prose brought the country and its native people to life. The imagery was so vivid; I often felt as if I were right there, experiencing the scenery, the heat, and the heavy rains. This was an excellent choice for my "Reading Globally" journey. ( )