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A Silent Life

Published by Peepal Tree Press

ISBN: 9781845230029

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Winner of the Guyana Prize for Best First Book of Fiction!

Aleyah Hassan knows from an early age that some mystery surrounds her grandmother who, except for praying incessantly, spends her days in silence.

When Aleyah finally breaks down her mother’s reluctance to reveal the family’s heart of darkness, she learns that Nani once had a great deal to say, that she was drawn to a vision of revolutionary politics and the desire to speak on behalf of the sugar workers of their village. But in the Guyana of the 1940s, a woman could not play such a role, and Nani was forced to act through her husband, Nazeer. He, lacking his wife’s abilities, is destroyed by the villagers’ humiliating perception of him as a man ruled by his wife. What has never been clear is the extent to which Nani was directly responsible for his self-destruction.

When Aleyah grows up academically gifted and with the desire to change the world, her family is both proud and concerned, particularly by Aleyah’s and Nani’s mutual attraction. And later, when Aleyah, following a scholarship to England, has to choose between her work for a radical aid agency and her children and marriage to a charming but lightweight fellow Guyanese, family history appears to be repeating itself.

In a novel that moves easily between the socially realistic and the poetic, A Silent Life combines strong social themes (concerning gender and race) with a narrative that explores mythic patterns through elements of the other-worldly.

Ryhaan Shah was born in Berbice, Guyana. She is currently active in Guyanese public life as the President of the Guyanese Indian Heritage Association.
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