‘Tell me if I am mad,’ Adam Avatar, a copper-skinned man with startling green eyes, asks Dr. Surendra Sankar, a psychiatrist in Trinidad. Aged forty-nine, there is some urgency in his request, since he fears that, very shortly, when he reaches his fiftieth birthday, he will die at the hands of his nemesis, the Shadowman. Adam believes he is nearly five hundred years old and has gone through nine previous incarnations, including living as a fifteenth century Amerindian, a Spanish conquistador, a Portuguese slaver and a Yoruba slave, a female pirate and a female stickfighter in nineteenth century Trinidad. Not unreasonably, Dr. Sankar reaches for his pad to prescribe drugs used to control delusional states.
As the consultations continue, Dr. Sankar’s professional expertise is tested to the full. On the one hand, his patient appears to behave with impeccable rationality, on the other, the accounts Avatar brings of his previous lives suggest buried traumas of the most worrying kind.
And when Avatar’s narratives of the experiences of his past selves are revealed to have an authenticity that cannot be explained away, Dr Sankar’s perplexity grows.
Kevin Baldeosingh brings a powerful narrative drive to this unfolding mystery, a Joycean variety of historical Englishes to the accounts of Avatar’s lives and a vivid and persuasive grasp of each historical period. But the novel also asks uncomfortable questions about the nature of power, the relationship between abuser and abused and the malleability of the person in different social environments.
Set in Haiti, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad, The Ten Incarnations of Adam Avatar is an epic account of the New World experience and a provocative enquiry into the nature of history and what it means to be a Caribbean person.
Kevin Baldeosingh was born in 1963 in Trinidad. He was educated at the University of the West Indies, where he also got a BA. He is a novelist and newspaper columnist.
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