Claire Adam’s novel, “Golden Child” is set in Trinidad and tells the story of the Deyalsingh family. There is Clyde, the breadwinner, who wants nothing more than to be able to provide for his family and to ensure his sons’ future. There is Joy, his dutiful wife who takes care of Clyde and her sons.
Then, there are the twins. The first is the ‘golden child’ of the novel – Peter – who is extremely intelligent, confident, handsome, and set to win a nationwide scholarship to further his studies in the United States. The other twin is Paul, who seems to be the exact opposite of everything that Peter is. Paul finds school to be onerous, and he maintains a somewhat unkempt appearance.
He is awkward and misunderstood by almost everyone. His prospects, especially from the perspective of his father, are extremely bleak and pale in comparison to everything that Peter represents for his family. This scenario, of having two children who are extremely different from each other, of having an obvious ‘favourite’ without ever actually having to resort to saying that one child is better, is something that is not alien to Caribbean households.
I think there is some truth in saying that parents do often prefer one child a little bit more than another. For the most part, this kind of preference goes unacknowledged and does not really influence anyone’s life at all. However, what happens in a situation where parents have to choose one child over another – specifically in a life or death situation? What are the factors that are weighed? How does one choose? Adam ensures that Clyde, in “Golden Child,” faces his very own Sophie’s choice, and the shocking part of the whole thing is that while the reader may expect the writer to hold back or offer some sort of middle-ground when it comes to such a difficult choice, Adam avoids all such expectations by making the character choose, and by making the choice clear and focused.
Clyde chooses and the novel catapults into an emotional slam-dunk of an ending – but it is the journey to the heart-wrenching climax that truly makes this novel such a good read in the first place.
One of the things that Adam does really well is her ability to clearly define characters. Peter and Paul may be twins, but Adam’s writing ensures that the reader understands that these are two very different boys. Peter is continually referred to as “the bright one” whereas everyone seems to think that there is something wrong with Paul. This contrast is one that could have been easily rendered in an exact, and cliched, manner, but the writer avoids this through the inclusion of specific details that develop the characters, moving them beyond expectations and stereotypes.
Peter, despite being the beloved, has a strong relationship with his brother, understanding his deficiencies, but never losing sight of the fact that Paul is his brother, and he loves him as such. Paul is given the ability to be able to pick up on the smallest details, to be able to see and hear things that are glossed over by people who are less perceptive than he is. So, while he does not do well in school, Paul is definitely far-removed from the simpleton that others might regard him as being.
Adam’s themes are very Caribbean and are only strengthened as the story goes on. Family, poverty, crime, and education are all elements that have come to define the oeuvre of Caribbean literature and they are all on display in “Golden Child,” ensuring that the Trinidadian nature of the book comes across to the reader. This is done through the author’s description of the setting, the use of dialogue, in the exploration of the dynamics of the relationships that exist between various characters in the novel, and in the presentation of the characters.
For example, Clyde, as the man of the house, is prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that Peter gets the education that is needed to take him out of the poverty in which he lives. Clyde’s goals are rooted in his desire to ‘save’ his favourite child from crime-ridden Trinidad, and it is this protective nature, this need to seek betterment for his child, that drives him along the path where he is forced to make the choice between his two sons.
To say that the novel’s ending is surprising might be a bit of an understatement. Without further spoiling the novel, I think that it is safe to say that the book has the kind of ending that stays with you for a long time as you continuously contemplate what you would have done were you in the situation faced by the principal characters.
It is a chilling, disturbing, and sorrowful ending that contrasts with all of the hope that the reader has for the family at the beginning of the novel. Perhaps this is deliberate. Perhaps the author is trying to say that such outcomes are the products of crime and poverty, of frenzied ambition and desperation, and of all of the other elements that threaten the sunny, beautiful side of the various countries and people in the Caribbean.