Andre Bagoo’s Undiscovered Country: Within these pages lie a whole World!
I thoroughly enjoyed this smart, thoughtful yet unguarded and readable essay collection by the Trinidadian writer and poet Andre Bagoo. Like the title, which suggests every possibility (is it about Star Trek? Tom Stoppard? Hamlet?) he considers and explores varied and eclectic ideas in each essay and chapter, writing about everything from the uniqueness of life in a city confined to an island, to world history, regional politics, colonialism — all told from a fresh perspective. Bagoo’s essays are like looking at the world through (I delete the obvious cliché here) a fresh perspective and unique eye, offering one surprise after another: Shakespeare, Merchant Ivory, Eric Williams, Naipaul, corn pone.
Bagoo’s writing is not just sorrel mojitos and cornpone either, and there is always the thrill of what might be on the next page. Art? Music? Prostitution? These essays ask as much as they tell, forcing me to put them down to go searching for Naipaul stories, and wondering where I left my old Schumann CDs and Merchant Ivory DVDs. He can go from cheeky to critical, especially on Trinidad’s domestic issues, foreign policy, migration and diaspora, with flourishes that warrant highlighting — “we leave it as much as we love it”
While the nations and territories of the Caribbean have made remarkable progress in recent decades to decriminalise homosexuality, homophobia in the region is still as commonplace as it is acceptable. Writing unapologetically as a gay man in Trinidad is itself a brave act; Bagoo charges into this territory fearlessly in one piece that disambiguates homosexuality and paedophilia (I couldn’t help but think it might be enunciating it slowly for the benefit of a reader like the auntie who discouraged a young Andre from singing in a choir or overeating) explores Naipaul’s possible childhood sexual abuse and the connection between his legendary cantankerous disposition, and childhood trauma. In a region that seems to elevate Naipaul to near-deity status in spite of his reputation for cruelty and misogyny, where it is not uncommon for some to connect homosexuality and paedophilia with a line, Bagoo’s clarity made me want to stand up and cheer.
I had to go back and read ‘The Secret Life of a Dyslexic Critic’ a third time before completing this review. You will too if you have ever fought distraction while trying to sit still, concentrate and write. Bagoo combines world affairs with his own coming out (as dyslexic) like a good conversation peppered with wit and confessions. If you are studying or even interested in the Caribbean, its cultures or social issues, you should read this collection. A professional reviewer would probably refer to it as a slim volume filled with insight. I can’t say how thin, reading it on a Kindle and not being a professional, but it’s stuffed with wisdom, and you will find the world inside.
Originally published at https://www.goodreads.com.