Aliyyah Eniath’s The Yard not only tells the story of an enduring love, but also offers an enticing glimpse into the lives of an extended Trinidadian Indian family. In the 19th century, after Britain abolished slavery, indentured labour from colonies far and wide came forth to fill in for menial and labour-intensive jobs. Trinidad and Tobago was among the regions that saw such migration.
The protagonist Maya’s great grandparents were among such migrants and after serving out their period of bonded labour, were awarded land where they set up a home for their children. Two generations later, the family had moved up in life as wealthy business folk. Yet, their Indian Muslim ancestry continued to set them apart as much as their sequestered homestead, the Yard, did. With this backdrop, not surprisingly, people as well as place play an equal role in the story.
Living conditions in the Yard are a spin on the traditional Indian joint family. Even though they live in separate houses in the same compound, the families of Father Khalid, his siblings and their elderly ailing mother intertwine and intersect in complex ways. Father Khalid, as he is known by all, rules over the family with a benign hand, but not always to the approval of the others. Especially when he brings home an unknown, unnamed orphan. Everyone has an opinion on the matter, especially what effect it will have on his daughters. Named Behrooz, meaning ‘lucky’ in Arabic, the boy settles in and eventually comes to be accepted, though at times grudgingly. Yet, this is not his story. Not completely.
Maya is the second of Father Khalid’s four daughters, an independent, wilful child, forever berating the fact that her sisters are ‘boring’. The appearance of Behrooz throws her everyday existence into something of a disarray, but the two misfits are drawn together in a bond that even they struggle to comprehend, not just as children, but as adults as well. As Maya and Behrooz trip into adolescence and give in to their growing attraction, neither is certain what the future holds.
Despite being well under 300 pages, The Yard has an epic-like feel to it. It will leave you surprised, shocked, amused, disgusted and astonished, but most of all it will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
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- The writing style is haunting and evocative. The ‘atmosphere’ in the book is deliciously thick and despite being a reader who steers clear of literary fiction, I was thoroughly sucked in.
- Maya was delightful, especially as a child. Which is to say, she was a complete pest and wholly annoying in a way that you can’t help like her.
- The Yard itself was fascinating, especially the relationships between the families of Father Khalid’s siblings.
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- It wasn’t always clear what the motivations of the various characters were. This shouldn’t strictly be a negative because human beings are complex creatures with shades of grey, but as a reader I was left somewhat dissatisfied for especially not understanding what drove Maya.
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- The front and back covers depict a young girl in a sari (the back cover especially is a lovely photograph), and one wonders if it is supposed to be Maya. If so, why is she wearing a sari? Nothing in the book seems to hint that she might have.