Back of the Net can be likened to one of soccer’s most deceptive kicks: The inside curve—that tricky action of “swinging forward with your kicking foot to meet the ball with the upper part of your big toe—slicing the ball low on the outside to produce an unpredictable spin.” Simply put, this narrative is all suited up to entice the soccer aficionado, but instead offers an intriguing autopsy of life among lower working class people on the island of Trinidad. Author Jerome Teelucksingh is prosaically forceful. He forgoes the finer aesthetics of the art—preferring a direct, almost surgical plunge into scenes and characters. Suicidal for some writers, but it works like a charm for this author. Teelucksingh and his characters are no doubt enthralled by soccer’s legends—irrespective of nationality. They are crowned and re-crowned by the tongues of common folks.
The reader journeys through T&T’s exasperating efforts to qualify for the world up during the 1970s and 1990s. Soccer, for the moment, usurps every sport and single-handedly assumes its own political platform. It is more than a national pastime. It is that homogeneous glue—the very crux of nationalism. But when the national team is defeated by the USA and World Cup dreams evaporate, there is anguish, collective pain. And Teelucksingh proves his worth, with his apt use of imagery. He writes: “Eleven heroes had been judged guilty. Eleven gods had failed their devotees who were in purgatory waiting salvation. They could not get the one goal needed to qualify. Eleven disciples who were worshiped…failed miserably. They stumbled on the final step to paradise.” Soccer ebbs and flows throughout this work with recollections of the last World Cup in South Africa. But it ultimately emerges as a compelling commentary on growing up poor in suburban Trinidad. Whether touched by the fires of the La Basse, or the wiles of Enterprise, the archetype of poverty is here unique, and so readily and efficiently played out by Emmanuel who is killed by police recklessness—a coup de grâce, of sorts.
Amid the Paul Keen Douglas-type humour, the author presents poverty bereft of ideology and guidance. Hope and hopelessness marry—an uneasy union. And self-preservation—at any costs, stands unchallenged. Political slogans and tantalising manifestos are not worth the paper unto which they are printed. The political response is edgy and clothed in bacchanalia. “One morning, the residents decided to block the roads with old stoves, mattresses, pieces of old wood, iron and old couches, to protest poor roads. They shouted expletives and refused to remove the smouldering items from the road.” The author calls it, “street justice.” Indeed, there is a foreboding atmosphere about this brand of poverty—eerily captured by the author. Academic achievements do not necessarily sever ties with the politics of hustle and the escapism (of soccer) as Raphael and Juanita’s son proves at one point. Even jocular scenes of stolen flowers (from graveyards)—to be resold—bears an unforgiving burden. Wild scenes of looting during the failed 1990 coup d’etat are vividly captured, and cements the overriding social themes—class, culture, nationality, and governmental duplicity. The characters opine on the state of culture and politics. “Band leaders will continue making small costumes for people with small IQs,” comments Marcus. “Buh dat is not culture. That garbage is not even pseudo-culture,” he offers, recalling a woman wining on fire hydrants and lamp posts. Should this narrative then be called Back of the Net? Absolutely. Clearly, it is that ball against the net that signals victory or defeat. It is an image that rekindles or sullies the spirit of the sportsman or the working class hustler—the very people who come alive in Teelucksingh’s captivating work.
Back of the Net by Jerome Teelucksingh
XLIBRIS Corporation, 2012
Available also at Barnes and Noble.com
Ratings: ****Highly Recommended