"In one of Chekhov's stories, a character says that every happy man should have someone who taps at his door with a little hammer, reminding him that there are unhappy people in the world. Reading Celeste Mohammed's novel-in-stories makes me think of that magical little tap – except that the door opens not to a vision of unhappiness, but to a world crammed with life that you never knew existed."Claire Adam
"The residents of Pleasantview come to vivid light in this extraordinary debut from Celeste Mohammed. Each slice of life in this Trinidadian village cuts clean to the bone, revealing how people are both complicated and complicit in the way we break each other's hearts and bodies. From the riveting opening to the aching end, Mohammed's gift for giving voice to each character is glorious."Tracey Baptiste
"As James Joyce did for Dublin, Celeste Mohamed holds up a polished mirror to the inhabitants of the fictitious Trinidadian town of Pleasantview and dares the reader to take an unflinching look at a multi-ethnic society that is vibrant and joyous but riddled with corruption and the exploitation of women, the young, and the vulnerable. Mohamed’s writing is smart, funny, and enlivened by everyday Trinidadian vernacular, creating rich and lively portraits of a range of Trini characters. A formidable debut, Pleasantview’s razor-sharp observations of misogyny and the abuse of power are leavened by humor and a pitch-perfect ear for the language of human."Tony Eprile
"Pleasantviewoffers the reader a sharp and fearless view of the dark underbelly of life in Trinidad, filled with unforgettable characters that we meet in do-or-die situations. Marked by male violence, political underhandedness, and economic desperation, Pleasantview also demonstrates Mohamed's remarkable range as a writer as she moves seamlessly from callousness to tenderness, humor to sorrow, lyricism to minimalism in work that lingers in the reader's mind long after the final page. This is a thrilling debut."Laurie Foos
“These stories are full of unexpected twists and connections and infused with humour. They herald the arrival of an intriguing new voice.”Ingrid Persaud
"Celeste Mohamed forces you to travel with her characters. You see their lives and their world as they do, on foot. You walk in her characters' shoes. Mohamed is a skillful storyteller, so the journey educates and exhilarates you, Mohamed invents a clear, crackling town/district, Pleasantview, a bustling, hustling side of Trinidad, where few of us have ever been, or will ever go. Pleasantview forces us to look at how we behave when uncontained, when unconstrained, when our lack of morality unmoors us."A.J. Verdelle
Coconut trees. Carnival. Rum and coke. To many outsiders, these idyllic images represent the so-called easy life in Caribbean nations such as Trinidad and Tobago. However, the reality is far different for those who live therea society where poverty and patriarchy savagely rule, and where love and revenge often go hand in hand.
Written in a combination of English and Trinidad Creole, Pleasantview reveals the dark side of the Caribbean dream. In this novel-in-stories about a fictional town in Trinidad, we meet a political candidate who sets out to slaughter endangered turtles for fun, while his rival candidate beats his “outside woman” so badly she ends up losing their baby. On the night of a political rally, the abused woman exacts a very public revenge, the trajectory of which echoes through Pleasantview, ending with one boy introducing another boy to a gun and to an ideology which will help him aim the weapon.
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About the Author
Celeste Mohammed's fiction has won multiple awards, including the 2018 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, the 2019 Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction, and the 2017 John D Gardner Memorial Prize for Fiction. Her work has appeared in The New England Review, Litmag, Epiphany, and The Rumpus, among other places. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Celeste graduated from Lesley University with an MFA in Creative Writing. She currently resides in Trinidad with her family.
Is “Pleasantview”, the setting of this book, a real place? Why did you choose that name?
No, it’s not a real place. It’s an ironic name. Meant to address the escapism and exoticism which, in my opinion, is the primary feature of North Americans’ attitude to Caribbean islands, our women and our way of life. The name sets up that trite expectation, but read on to find the complex truth. Our accents aren’t merely “sexy”, they are musical and our speech is lyrical and poetic – a worthy tool for literary fiction. Our women aren’t merely objects for oversexualization. They are, by and large, hardworking women born into a culture which normalizes abuse and abandonment by men, and which even perpetuates male fragility.
Q: So, the book is primarily set on the island of Trinidad, where you live. Is it important to you to have these stories read outside of Trinidad?
Yes, it is important. It’s not often Americans read a book from Trinidad, yet I understand we are the fifth largest contributor of Caribbean immigrants – and I won’t even get into the other socio-political entanglements between our countries. Usually, when you do find stories about Trinidad on the international literary scene, they are written by authors who no longer live here. Sitting here, far from the literary publishing centres of the world, and writing from here, about here is very different to writing from a place of nostalgia - a remembered Trinidad – or from a safe distance. So it is important to me that such a proximate voice, particularly a female one, be admitted to a cultural conversation on the many areas of intersect and cross-fertilization between the Caribbean and America.
Q: In this book you employ both Standard English and Trinidad Creole, sometimes even giving the latter pride of place. Are you concerned that may limit the readability of your work?
Although the official language of Trinidad and Tobago is English, in our day to day discourse what we speak is a mélange of English with heavy French, Spanish, Hindi and Amerindian influences. You cannot know a place unless you learn its language. At first, when I was still doing my MFA, I used to worry about whether anyone in America would want to read what I was writing. I used to worry that my work might be too highly seasoned with patois for some palates. And maybe it is. But as the stories began to be accepted and published by North American literary journals, I stopped worrying. Instead, I assumed that I had struck the right balance of authenticity and readability, and that there was something in the stories which transcended the strict rules of Standard English. American readers wanted to know the place.
Q: Apart from curiosity about the culture and language of Pleasantview, are there any major themes which you think would resonate with a North American audience?
Yes. One of the most topical issues of our time is migration. The notion of picking up one’s baggage and moving, seeking a new home, is a central and recurring theme in Pleasantview. From slum to suburbia, from village to town, from country to country – almost everyone in Pleasantview is moving. A person’s physical baggage is almost always accompanied by psychological baggage and, in many cases, the traveller fails to realize he’s carrying with him the very threat he intends flee.
Q: Why a novel-in-stories and not a novel?
I think because the stories came to me in such a random way over the course of the last six years. Short stories are a great way to learn and practice the craft of writing. So the core of the book is my MFA thesis from Lesley University, Cambridge, Mass. But as I grew, the collection grew. Other stories came later, as I got to know the characters better, and those really rounded out the collection and took it from loosely linked to being a novel-in-stories.