EQUAL TO MYSTERY: The Life and Work of Harold Sonny Ladoo

A post by Christopher Laird

EQUAL TO MYSTERY: The Life and Work of Harold Sonny Ladoo

Only by dying brutally can man become equal to mystery.

 (“A Short Story,” Harold Sonny Ladoo, 1973)

I am writing a biography of the Trinidadian/Canadian novelist Harold Sonny Ladoo (1945-1973) and am seeking the assistance of anyone who has material relating to Harold. Here are excerpts from my draft Introduction:

            I never met Harold Ladoo. I discovered his writing almost by accident; it was in 1974, in Port of Spain, and I was working on a soon-to-be-launched periodical called KAIRI. One morning a book landed on my desk for review – and to this day I have no idea how it got there, or who sent it. But from the first, staccato paragraph, I was hooked.

Pa came home. He didn’t talk to Ma. He came home just like a snake. Quiet.

What followed was so spare, so violent, so human that I can still feel the shockwave it produced. The book was No Pain Like This Body (1972), Harold Sonny Ladoo’s first novel. It exploded in our midst, and set me on a quest that has lasted for nearly fifty years.

* * *

It seemed incomprehensible to me that, quite apart from Ladoo’s literary accomplishments, no one has asked: how come, as Ladoo might have put it, “a little coolie boy from Trinidad” had earned a university degree in Canada, published two landmark novels, was the subject of a long poem by Toronto’s first poet laureate, had a prize for creative writing established in his name at the University of Toronto, and an art project dedicated to him by a major Canadian artist who had never met him? What would a biography of Ladoo reveal about this unlikely trajectory?

In pursuing that question myself the only published sources available told a story that went like this: Ladoo was an orphan, adopted by a hard-up peasant family. He spent part of his childhood in hospitals, and was abused by Canadian missionaries in primary school. Put to work in the rice-fields from the age of eight, he planted crops after leaving school, raising enough money to leave Trinidad. He emigrated to Canada with a suitcase full of poems, intent on re-inventing himself as a great writer.

            In Toronto, he worked as a dishwasher and short-order cook. Later he destroyed everything he’d written till then, and began writing fiction in all-night binge sessions. Within five years he had graduated from the University of Toronto, and published his first novel. And his ambition was titanic; he spoke of writing an epic of some 200 novels, spanning five centuries. But in August 1973 he travelled home to settle some painful family business. A week later, on August 17, his battered body was found at the side of a road near his family home.

The tragic, indeed grisly circumstances of his death remained shrouded in rumour and suspicion. His legacy included the six or seven novels he left in manuscript.

So the story went.

However, Equal To Mystery digs deeper to reveal a reality that eclipses the myths spectacularly as it documents the story of a young man from rural Trinidad, in his audacious bid to out-write V. S. Naipaul and other Caribbean writers – in fact, to out-write all writers anywhere. It’s a story of personal courage, grave flaws and driven talent, one that deserves a place among the legends of Caribbean, Canadian, and – if only as a poignant footnote – world literature.

Now, I am reaching out to anyone who has information on Harold hoping to gather any loose ends in the story. Thus: Anyone with correspondence / photos / memories /manuscripts of Harold is invited to contact Christopher Laird, laird@pancaribbean.com


Brief bio.

Christopher Laird has produced over 300 documentaries and dramas for television, winning scores of international awards. He has overseen the establishment of the world’s largest digitised collection of Caribbean culture on video. In 2003 he co-founded region’s first all-Caribbean television station, Gayelle The Channel. In 2009 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the West indies.

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