John Thieme

Beyond Boundary

Bethany, Bettany

By

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BETHANY, BETTANY: THE central tension of Fred D’Aguiar’s fourth novel is summed up in its title. ‘Bethany’ and ‘Bettany’ are the two forms of the young Guyanese protagonist’s name and they correspond to two different versions of her identity. ‘Bethany’ is the form preferred by her mysteriously absent mother (who doesn’t answer her letters), and is the way she writes her name in school. ‘Beaany’ was preferred by her late father and is the name she is given by his politically influential fady, in whose house, the largest in the suggestively named small town of Boundary, she is living in the present of the novel. Her father died, again mysteriously, in England, in her infancy. Now, at the age of sixteen, she finds herself living in Guyana among aunts and uncles who abuse her and blame her for their brother’s death. A minor speech impediment has gradually developed into a condition that makes her choose silence whenever possible. And behind the arrested development of the heroine and her family’s involvement in the life of the nation, there is the hint that the personal maps on to the political, if not as a neat allegorical fit, at least as some kind of correspondence.

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