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My Father’s House: In Search of a Lost Past

ISBN: 978-0241137482

About This Book

In 1995 Matthew Carr returned to Guyana in the Caribbean, where his parents’ marriage had broken up nearly thirty years before, in order to investigate the mysterious death of his father Bill Carr in 1991. A popular and charismatic English lecturer, a lover of DH Lawrence, Shakespeare and Matthew Arnold, and a left-wing political activist with a strong public presence in West Indian politics, Bill Carr was also a violent alcoholic who beat his wife and children, and whose alcohol-induced mayhem forced his family to return to England without him in 1967.

In the ensuing decades little was known of the life he led in a country whose single claim to international fame in all that period was the ‘Jonestown massacre.’ Apart from a single visit to England a few years before his death, Bill Carr had, it seemed, cut himself off from his family and his country and chosen to live a life of exile with a new family in his adopted country. His son’s decision to return to Guyana for the first time since 1967 was partly prompted by the confused circumstances that preceded his father’s death, in which he seemed to express a wish to return to his native land.

What began as an exploration of a lost West Indies childhood in Jamaica and Guyana and an investigation of his father’s chaotic and contradictory personality, became a compelling and extraordinary journey into the racial politics and history of the Caribbean, and Guyana in particular. Why did so many people remember Bill Carr so well when his family remembered him so badly? Why had his father cut himself off from his family so completely and so brutally? Why had he wanted to return? What caused his death?

Alternating between meetings with his father’s friends, colleagues, enemies and family members, Carr sets out to answer these questions and reconcile their memories with those of his family. In doing so he draws an often shocking and disturbing portrait of a tormented and contradictory figure whose undoubted capacity for good was often matched by a formidable self-destructive streak that eventually killed him and damaged many of those closest to him.

The result is a striking combination of family history, travelogue, and colonial history that recalls Malcolm Lowry, Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad, in which the story of Bill Carr’s steep descent into masochistic self-destruction mirrors the collapse of Guyana under the post-colonial dictatorship of Forbes Burnham.

Out of print for some years now, this acclaimed memoir is now available for the first time as an e-book to a new generation of readers.