Thwarted love, high mas and family bacchanal under a Trinidad and Tobago sky … that’s one of the ways to describe Nathalie Taghaboni’s second book, a Caribbean novel called Across From Lapeyrouse. It follows the coming of age of Jeneva Savanoy and all the romance, personal growth and just plain drama that comes with that. This book is a great read, but Taghaboni herself is just as fascinating and funny as her books: a Trini raised in Toronto, Canada, living in the US with her Iranian husband of 20 years and two children and causing all kinds of bacchanal on her Facebook page daily. Find out for yourself…
MEP: You’re a Trini living in Ohio … Exactly how much does your ‘West Indianess’ stand out?
NT: The image of a fish out of water comes to mind, or perhaps a hummingbird in a flock of pelicans. Folks here in my little town often do not know what to make of me. And to add wood to fire, I am not the ‘blend in’ type. So armed with my Holy Name Convent accent, British spelling and saga-girl attitude, I stand out and don’t mind it one bit.
MEP: In addition to being an author, you’re also an entrepreneur: the owner of Commess University. What does the company do?
Commess University (also referred to as Commess University Press) is a full service, independent publishing company. Our focus is on self publishing authors. Our strength is Caribbean-centric work. Getting published is a daunting task. Commess University strives to take the angst out of the process while allowing the client to make the decisions.
MEP: Aside from your books, you’re also well-known in the Diaspora for uniquely witty writing in Trinidad dialect. Isn’t that against all the rules of writing for an international audience?
NT: Rules? RULES?? Lemme at ‘em!
I’ve learned that today’s savvy readers are willing to overlook the rules if the writer has the ability to communicate a compelling story. For me to do so in Trini Speak, I needed to break some rules.
I’ve been criticized for this. A reader or two has accused me of making us “look uneducated” by writing the way I do. But for me, the Trini Speak, the languages of each the Caribbean islands are so very rich in nuance and metaphor that to standardise it feels like murder.
It’s not an accent. It is an actual, living, vibrant, colourful communication, with references and inferences that would vanish were we to slap the taste out of it by applying rules. I can conjugate a steupse*, no mean feat.
MEP: In Across From Lapeyrouse, you’re writing about music and mas, romance and family drama in Trinidad and Tobago. But you haven’t been back to the Caribbean for several years. How does that work?
NT: I left Trinidad shortly after Columbus landed so yes, it has been a long time. But Trinidad and Tobago isn’t simply where I am from. It is who I am and I packed it in my grip when I left. The more I traipsed about, the more I understood how wonderful my own heritage is.
MEP: How have West Indians and non-West Indians responded to the book?
NT: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Even non-Trinidadians saw the mas, felt the music and fell in love with the characters. One gentleman wrote to say that he is “married to someone like Gloria.”Another gentleman wrote to me and said he read the novel on a flight to a business meeting and shed unashamed tears. I am quite pleased to note how many of my readers are male.
MEP: We hear whispers about a sequel that looks more closely at the talented and tragic Gloria Savanoy. Tell us about it.
NT: I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but when you read Across From Lapeyrouse, it is clear that Gloria Savanoy has a story. Something is making her tick when she should tock and that something is buried deep. She is perhaps my most difficult character because her story is a tough, harsh one. But one of the things I insisted on when I first began the story of the Savanoys is that it must be as real and as close to life as possible.
I am taking my time telling her story in the sequel and working with a couple of people who know what Gloria went through. A huge part of the difficulty with painting Gloria’s picture is in making her darkness and brittle insanity ring true. It drains me – although some would insist that my writing about insanity should be a non-issue.
MEP: Who would play you in a movie about your life?
NT: I want to say Halle Berry eh, but no one would believe it. I’d like to choose a local actress for the part. Someone who can step into the role and very little coaching is needed for them to exude the rhythm in the walk and the unique humour we own. Let me come home and hold a casting call. I’ll know her when she walks in.
*Steupse – the uniquely West Indian habit of sucking or ‘kissing’ the teeth to convey contempt.