A House is Not a Home


“In Guyana the night is dark, true dark. In Guyana the night piles thick and velvet. Prussian blue from the ground beneath your feet to high above your head. It is all around you, not confined just to the sky, but laying too along the ground, at the side of the road, in the air above the canal water, and lurking among the grasses and the trees. Thick, so thick is the night that it comes in close and nudges you. It has a pelt that brushes cheeks, a weight that curls in the nape of your neck, and it fills your mouth with black and wet solidity. It is alive. Alive with sounds and smells, something you can almost hold in your palm. Night there is not like anything I had ever felt before.”

This book is laced with description and poetic rhythm that is imperative when calling upon your memory to write about areas of the globe the majority of the public will never get a chance to experience. From the beginning of the book to the end, the author at times grants the reader entrance into a conscious dream space through her vivid retrospective. Within the pliable confines of this space you are living where: 1) foreign birds are heard singing their unique song, 2) the sweet earth of the clove cigarettes is palatable yet choking for some, 3)foaming waters are felt bubbling on your legs then dissipating into thick air, 4) the feeling of the warm embrace that only the hug of humidity can give you, and 5) natives quizzically staring as if you had five heads. The author allows the audience to live the world through her sensory encounters all the while reading in the comfort of your own home. For people with agoraphobia or acarophobia this book’s for you.


While reading the summary I had high expectations, the introduction justified it, after finishing, I can’t help but feel that it failed to live up to them. Well, it’s a memoir how can you make non-fiction more enticing then the life you had lived, in the end fact is fact and reality is reality. The subject matter lead me to believe that I was about to read a literary travelogue, filled with familial discovery and political intrigue. I was also expecting the typical coming of age aspects of physical and emotional maturation, puppy love, and rebellion. But where this book had more with the family’s adaptation to vastly foreign land, and her search for the truth behind her father’s travails. It covered nearly all the elements I had expected and made me realize that a person’s memoir is just that, their memoir. Selfishly, as a reader you expect books to be excessively fascinating, but you have to be reminded that the author can’t manipulate the facts in order to make for an unbelievable and compelling story for the audience. I Still feel she could have went further into deep waters, given her interesting life.

“Later, in the daytime, we would dive off that boat and swim above the coral reef. Fishing, catching barracuda, silver-sided, bony-headed, mouths full of needled teeth. Fish flew, leapt in the frothing wake of the orange-and-white boat. They flew with fins like wings, like wings of dragonflies spread wide. Dolphins too would come, some were spotted, their backs above the waves beside our boat as speckled as the sky at night. Once when diving off the boat, over top the reef, I saw a shark, long and lurking in the distance, The water was so clear I couldn’t tell how close it was. Too close and much too big.”

The parallels between the main character and the countries she found herself in was also a nice complementary piece of the story. Shelagh was thirteen years old while Guyana was eight years old into their independence when she first got off the plane into her sojourn. On her first foray into Guyana, Shelagh is introduced to her first experience of culture shock when she is hit with the steelpan trill of soca music. At that point in time both Shelagh and Guyana were on the cusp of their own independence, and with that they were restless, yet hopeful and optimistic about the future. Once the Plunkett family left Guyana and were off to Indonesia, Shelagh seemed angry at the thought of leaving her friends again and resentful towards her family for making her decision for her in a very undemocratic way. While showing a brave face she was seething behind closed doors, bored out of her mind and extremely disappointed with her current situation. The hyperbole between the “Freedom Fighters” and the trouble they caused in East Timor was a great dichotomy in Indonesia and was a tad bit disconcerting for Shelagh’s fragile psyche.

“Jakarta was the strangest place that I had ever seen. The air screamed all the time. High-pitched shrieks of metal, clash of horns, shrill motorbikes by the thousands circling traffic islands. The women sat sideways on the back of every bike, legs crossed and purses held primly on their laps. In front the men were hunched, intent on where they were going. Their wrists were fine boned and sinewy, torsos were concave with shirts blown inward, tight against their empty stomachs. They wore scarves, triangles wrapped round their faces. They looked like bandits, but they’re just filtering air that’s pasty with exhaust.”

I truly loved Shelagh as a character. She seemed like a really mature, smart,at times mischievous, cool “chick” (I mean that in the most endearing fashion). I know their are worse struggles out there in the world, but to deal with the lack of “home” takes something special. The random Guyanese expressions were also enjoyable. Being from Canada one of the true cultural “melting pots” of the world many people will have come across some of them. For me I have an affinity for a ladies “whine” all though being a true and true “white boy” mine is more of whimper. Another reminder from the past I hope I am not implicating myself when saying this but in high school I smoked some marijuana with a guy who had immigrated from Guyana to Canada five years prior. After leaving my garage he took a scrap hubcap and wheeled it along the street with two sticks to guide it. It was quite the image for a suburban area, and I asked him “what he was doing?” and he told me it was something he did to pass the time in his homeland. I couldn’t find the reference in the book but reading it at the time brought back this memory.

Reader’s, especially myself are often times quite selfish. You read the premise of the novel and you expect the questions raised by the author to be answered. Much like her own personal mysteries, the reader is left in there own shroud. I had a good idea of the answers, but wanted confirmation, I was upset, but was eventually accepting of the fact that she constructed a reflection of feelings between herself and the reader. My greed was parted in thanks to you, and a more accommodating reader was realized.

“The dragons seem uninterested. They seem lazy, anchored down to earth, unmoving, slow, and clumsy. But that’s deceiving. The lizards smell what you have brought, and they are gathering their energy. They are waiting. They are poised. Watch this. White chickens, snowy white and pure – they’re always pure and spotless white – are tossed, alive and clacking as they flap and fall into the dragon pit. You might hear claws, Komodo claws, on rocks, but you’ll hear nothing more. Dragons move too fast to hear or see. Brown flash. White feathers in the dust. Gone. Gone.”










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