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Extraordinary Industry in Balkaran’s Guyanese Guide
Lal Balkaran, Ed., Bibliography of Guyana and Guyanese Writers, 1596-2004
Toronto, LBA Publications, 2004

A review by Frank Birbalsingh

As its cover announces, Lal Balkaran’s new volume is: An A-Z Guide of Books on Guyana by Guyanese and Non-Guyanese Writers and on Other Subjects by Guyanese Writers. The description "A-Z Guide" means that each book is listed alphabetically, like a dictionary, according to the name of its author; and as Mr. Balkaran also announces on his cover, his Bibliography lists altogether 820 authors and 1300 titles. These enthusiastic announcements suggest that Mr. Balkaran’s book is a bold and exciting venture, pioneering in spirit, which seeks, for the first time, to compile a comprehensive list of publications about Guyana or by Guyanese. Such a venture raises intriguing questions of classification if not of quality: what is Guyanese literature – books written by native Guyanese, or about Guyana, or both? Happily, Mr. Balkaran’s answer to this question, implied by his selection of books, is catholic and entirely wholesome: any writing about Guyana (by anyone) or by a native Guyanese (about any subject) is Guyanese literature.

The earliest title in the volume is the first book written on Guyana – by Sir Walter Ralegh – its full title being: The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Beauwtiful Empyre of Guiana (With a Relation of the Great and Golden Citie of Manoa (Which the Spanyards call El Dorado) and of the Provinces of Emeria, Aromaia, Amapaia, and Other Countries, with Their Riulers, Adjoyning (Robert Robinson: London, 1596). For the next three and a half centuries, Guyanese literature continued to be written by foreigners like Ralegh, and these (mainly British) authors are well represented in Mr. Balkaran’s Bibliography, for example, Sir Robert Schomburgh, the geographer, J.A. Rodway, the historian and novelist, Walter Roth and his son Vincent, historians and naturalists, and Rev. William Henry Brett, whose collection of aboriginal oral literature is of priceless value today.

By the 1950s, however, native-born Guyanese writers had begun to assert themselves, of whom the first major figure was Edgar Mittelholzer. Mittelholzer was followed, during the next three decades, by other Guyanese-born writers such as Jan Carew, Martin Carter, A.J. Seymour, and Wilson Harris, and, in turn, they were succeeded by a new generation of writers from the 1980s onward, for instance, Beryl Gilroy, John Agard, Cyril Dabydeen, David Dabydeen, Fred D’Aguiar, and many others. Most of these authors are prolific, their many publications being well known, both in Guyana and abroad. One expects to see their names in a book like Mr. Balkaran’s. What is an unexpected pleasure is the inclusion of authors who may be equally prolific, but are almost unknown largely because their books are self published and have appeared only in Guyana, for example, N.E. Cameron who wrote on almost every topic from history and mathematics to politics, and Sheik Sadeek whose stories provide a colorful and lyrical evocation of the rural, Guyanese landscape. All this confirms Mr.

Balkaran’s extraordinary industry since he had to roam far and wide, among catalogues and indexes, in search of information for his Bibliography. More impressive evidence of his industry is his uncanny success in finding self-published volumes by contemporary authors who are still unknown, for example Joseph S. Persaud’s Across Three Continents: An Indo-Guyanese Family Experience, and Ann Wishart-Eudoxie’s A Guyanese Story – Steps in my Journey. This kind of research calls for boldness and originality, but these very qualities spell risk in being unable to spread the net wide enough to catch everything. In his Introduction Mr. Balkaran is aware of this risk when he states that his Bibliography is not exhaustive, and will be enlarged as more titles are discovered. One missing title is a collection of stories as follows: Derrick "John" Jeffrey, Demerara, New York, Seawall Press, 1992. Recent titles like this, either self published or published by small presses, can be very slippery. It is surprising though, that Mr. Balkaran misses several books by M. Shahabuddeen, most notably his From Plantocracy to Nationalisation, which appeared in 1983 and was printed in Guyana. This is all the more surprising because Mr. Balkaran accurately records the publications of S.S. Ramphal, Shahabuddeen’s partner in the crime of drawing up the Constitution that finally destroyed democracy in Burnham’s Guyana. At any rate, the editor acknowledges that the process of amending and enlarging his Bibliography has only just begun. Mr. Balkaran’s achievement is to have made the start.

And what an excellent start! As Professor Jan Carew writes in his "Foreword" to the Bibliography, it: "is an invaluable work for historians and other liberal arts scholars, and others far from those fields, as it covers a full spectrum of scholarship… It is also a priceless resource for anyone who would want to know more about Guyana and its people."

Mr. Balkaran is already the author of several publications on Business and Accounting; and he has written an autobiographical account of his family, Through Faith & Luck: The Story of an East Indian Family in Guyana. He has also published another A to Z Guide, Dictionary of the Guyanese Amerindians & Other South American Native Terms which appeared in 2002. He is nothing if not prolific

Bibliography of Guyana & Guyanese Writers 1596-2004: An A-Z Guide of Books on Guyana by Guyanese and Non-Guyanese Writers and On Other Subjects by Guyanese Writers with a Foreword by Professor Jan Carew. (LBA Publications, 18 Portsmouth Drive, Scarborough, Ont. M1C 5E1, 2004. 150pp. $45.00: E-mail Tel: 416-283-4051.
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