The Ten Days Executive by Rhoda Bharath is a collection of short stories the quality of which came as a pleasant surprise to me. Prior to reading this collection, I had never encountered Bharath’s work and came to this review with no preconceptions. As I delved further into her writing I was struck by its engaging and powerful narrative, its varying themes and its explicit delivery.
Bharath is a Caribbean writer who spends much of her time teaching and blogging about politics and culture. In 2007 she completed an MFA in Creative Writing in the University of West Indies. Following this, in 2014, she was short-listed for the Hollick-Arvon Prize for Creative Non-Fiction.
This collection of short stories is captivating and engaging right from the start in the form of the title story “The Ten Days Executive” which is written in Trinidadian English. This variation of the English language which does not follow the familiar rules of grammar and syntax immediately captures the tone of the collection, its world and characters. This style of writing is engaging and entertaining to read, making it difficult not to imagine yourself in these settings and situations. For someone who has never experienced this language before, I found it very easy to adjust to this style of writing- which I think is partly to do with the fact that this has been written authentically. It is difficult to not become immersed in the sense of rhythm and speed which comes with this type of writing:
“Basil remain quiet. He ain’t say peep. He know the day he open he mouth, she go answer him back and he can’t take it when woman answer him back”.
Although this style appears frequently in Bharath’s prose, the collection does not solely rely on this local patois. Other stories are written in a more recognisable form of English from a third-person perspective.
The first three entries in this collection, whilst being enjoyable, are not among the strongest. It is not until the fourth piece, ‘Redemption’- which tells the story of a small village, its inhabitants and one man’s affair with the local prostitute- that the tales become truly intriguing. ‘Redemption’ is effective in demonstrating a man’s fall from grace and brings to the surface questions of relationships and womanhood:
“‘In all the time you was married to Stanton, you was ever happy to see him?… Because Stanton tell me you never love him…It ever occur to you that it take more than a wedding ceremony and children to make him happy?…But as much as I is a whore, I was more Stanton’s woman than you ever could be!’“
This story signifies the introduction of themes and concepts which appear in the next several stories; themes of relationships, family, marriage, adultery and sex. Although the basis of these stories become familiar, they all seem distinct from each other either through the perspective from which they are being told or the increasingly dark nature of what is happening to the characters. The use of the Trinidadian English again comes into play powerfully in ‘The Fairest of Them All’. The simplicity of the language and the innocence of the narrator make the events all the more disturbing:
“‘Ma tell me not to let nobody touch me there, Pa’… ‘Well I is your Pa. I different.’…he put hand under my jersey and start to play up with my breasts…But I didn’t want him to think I didn’t love him so I just sit down quiet…”
The Ten Days Executive is an enjoyable and captivating collection, although the middle section of the collection is the most memorable with its mature and sometimes challenging themes and the effective execution of these narratives.
Hamzah M. Hussain