Tue | Jan 16, 2018

A tale of survival

Published:Sunday | January 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Glenville Ashby
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Book review: Jumbie Story

Author: Albert Cumberbatch

Simon and Simeon Watson are twins - ambitious young men from Guyana with a future that holds promise. They embark on an academic journey at a prestigious university in the US. They are hopeful, anticipatory, and expected to excel. But oftentimes, plans are derailed. Providence has other ideas.

They familiarise themselves with their new cultural experience, including a fiery romance with the Richardson sisters, referred to as the blonde twins, before the start of the semester. All seems to have fallen into place until they are apprehended en route to class, herded into a police car, and whisked away for questioning over a purported incident. They find themselves in a glacial cell, terrified, uncertain of their future. Within days, they learn their fate.

Cumberbatch proves an able raconteur, delivering a provocative multilayered mimesis. This is a narrative that is so close to home that you read every line within some measure of consternation. Yes, it could happen to you. This is Orwellianism 101 a disturbing exposition of unchecked governmental power. There are flashes of post-September 11, which unleashed a secret war against terrorists and others who were abducted by the CIA and whisked to undisclosed locations around the world for interrogation. No legal or judicial transparency. Extraordinary rendition it was called.

Cumberbatch introduces a similar but equally troubling form of excess. The twins, victims of trumped-up charges, are forced to join an elite military unit.

"Hey! Get real!" they are told by their military captor. "You are black, the girls are white. You are foreign from God knows where. They are Americans, and they said you raped them. End of story. And they are blonde, too. If you were in the South, we let you go, you'd be found hanging from a tree about an hour later."

 

TRAPPED LIKE ANIMALS

 

Later, the young men must come to grips with their predicament after being told that they "do not exist anymore; [that they] have disappeared, vanished [and] are now ghosts, and that if [they made] the slightest attempt to talk to anyone, or try to escape, [they] will be shot on sight."

"We are trapped like animals in a cage, and there is no way to get out, but death," Simon concedes.

Doleful times set in for their parents. Their father, Rudy, in particular, turns to alcohol to assuage the uncertainty, the loss.

Cumberbatch challenges us to reflect: Is this a harbinger of tomorrow's society?

There is a synchronous element to Cumberbatch's work. It mirrors society. For sure, art imitates life, but life also imitates art. Jumbie Story speaks to the challenges that we face as a people.

And in timely fashion, Cumberbatch has raised the spectre of race as he deftly shifts from the young men's travails and the secret war they are forced to fight.

 

SEVERE CONSEQUENCES

 

For sure, miscegenation, or interracial sexual relations, is still an anathema. In the 21st century, the consequences are still severe. The blonde twins are intimidated, fearful that their father will know of their forbidden relationship. They ruminate and candidly discuss their trepidation if their tryst with the Watson twins goes public. It does. When the boys vanish, like jumbies a West Indian argot for ghosts the media are involved, and all that is hidden is revealed.

The girls' father is livid. He is described as a conservative, well respected and steeped in religion a deacon, no less. Still, racism knows no boundaries. "He was serious, but friendly, 'to the right people', that is. Those who held his views and moved in his social circles, which was restricted to Whites only, knew him that way."

And when the girls learn that they are pregnant, the chasm widens. Their father is unbending, unforgiving. Their mother, though, is more comforting, supportive. The girls must leave their residence to live with a relative.

The birth of their children has a redemptive impact on both families, especially Rudy.

The girls' father, though, remains aloof, uncompromising.

Cumberbatch, ever the existentialist, details the adaptability of the human spirit. Simon and Simeon shed their past - if only for survival and focus on their military training. They mature overnight. They are given new identities. They excel and are poised to pursue a secret war against drug trafficking in Colombia. Shades of the Iran-Contra scandal.

The young men are determined to survive their forced contract. "I don't know what we will return to," Simon remarks, "but we will return. We cannot beat them. They are too huge and in place, but we can overcome them."

But the nagging sixty-four thousand-dollar question remains: Are the young men working for rogue elements within the US and Colombian military? Are those who are supposed to uphold the law profiting from this massive drug-trafficking operation?

Now aware of extrajudicial killings and profiteering, will Simon and Simeon be liquidated by this military cabal? Are they capable of undermining this rogue element? Will they escape this deadly labyrinth and reunite with their family? Are they ingenious to hatch such a plan? How will this saga end? Intriguing.

Jumbie Story is riveting. Cumberbatch has produced a captivating tale with overwhelming sociological overtones.

In dramatic fashion, Cumberbatch addresses the many social, political, and geopolitical problems that beset the US. Some may accuse him of dabbling in hyperbole. I differ. An impartial study of today's cultural Zeitgeist may just prove Cumberbatch right.

Jumbie Story by Albert Cumberbatch (c) 2017

Publisher: Xlibris LLC, USA

ISBN: 978-1-5434-3194-0

Pp: 164

Available at Amazon

Ratings: Recommended

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