Critical Context

Like Heath’s five novels preceding it, Kwaku was reviewed favorably in British and American periodicals. Reviewers applauded the novel’s verve, comic spirit, rich use of the vernacular, and undercurrent of tragedy. A Guyanese-born writer living in England, Roy Heath has had his work compared to that of V. S. Naipaul. Unlike Naipaul, Heath has not yet attracted a great deal of serious academic attention, perhaps because, as Charles R. Larson notes, he has “abandoned the overt element of protest so common in the works of so many third world writers.”

Despite its emphasis on issues of family, home, and village, however, Kwaku is deeply concerned with the political issues of its time. As Heath has noted, Guyana’s declaration of independence in 1966 was a formative event for him in his quest to be a writer. The political chaos of Guyana forms a powerful backdrop to the events of the novel. Perhaps even more important to the novel, however, are the Guyanese stories and folktales that Heath recalls having heard as a child. Although these stories have found their way into all of his fiction, they are particularly important in shaping the narrative of Kwaku, in which myths, fables, and storytelling itself take on great importance. Kwaku both survives and, often, embroils himself in improbably difficult situations through his love of storytelling, and this provides the novel with much of its comic energy. Equally important, however, and perhaps more moving are the scenes in which Kwaku, the loving father and husband, regales his family with folktales, stories that bring them together not only as a family but also as members of a larger community. Ultimately, readers join this community, a fellowship based on a love of language and of narrative.