Like most of Roy Heath’s novels, The Shadow Bride deals with the disintegration of a single character. In this case that character is Mrs. Singh, a woman born in India but brought to British Guiana as a bride when still an adolescent. The novel’s title suggests that Mrs. Singh has left part of herself back in India and remains a “shadow” of herself throughout her life. She symbolizes the problems of all East Indian immigrants living in Guiana, and in a certain sense she symbolizes all first-generation immigrants everywhere, including Heath himself.
The protagonist of the novel is not Mrs. Singh but her son Betta, who has been studying medicine in England. Contrary to his mother’s wishes, he goes to work as a government official supervising the health of workers on a big colonial estate that is engaged in the business of growing sugar cane for export. The time is the 1930’s, and the country is still under British rule. Such estates played a major part in Guiana’s history because the British imported large numbers of indentured workers from India to do the backbreaking, poorly paid labor in the fields. The East Indians became the dominant racial group in Guiana, which is the reason Heath, himself of African descent, is writing about them.
The British overseers were as heartless in their treatment of the indentured workers as the slave owners in the Deep South of the United States were to their slaves before the Civil War....
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