Product no.: HP214

A Portrait of British Guiana, 1952-1956, from an American family’s letters home. The Letters of Marian and Howard Irwin

Edited and with an Introduction by Dorothy Irwin

This startlingly detailed depiction of life in the capital city of Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana), sheds light on a seminal period of the colony’s push toward nationhood. Evoking a time when letters were still the sole form of overseas communication, the book compiles the personal correspondence mailed to the United States by a young American couple during the three and a half years they made their home in Georgetown. Howard Irwin was the first of several Americans to arrive by way of a Fulbright teaching grant at Queen’s College, the colony’s leading secondary school for boys, where he taught biology. On the side, he joined a local symphony orchestra and ventured to outlying districts to conduct fieldwork that eventually led to a career in tropical botany. Confined by custom to the domestic sphere, Marian Irwin wrote about family life and the couple’s sometimes baffling interactions with neighbours, tradesmen, school colleagues, and household help.

Celebrating its fiftieth year of independence in 2016, Guyana is still in the process of healing wounds that opened during the early to mid-1950s. This unique collection of letters, annotated with extracts from historical documents and memoirs by Guyanese and others then on the scene, offers a finely textured glimpse of the capital before, during, and just after that tumultuous era, combining the quotidian with such defining events as the colony’s first free election in 1953, the surprising victory of the People’s Progressive Party, the PPP ministers’ brief term in office, and their ouster with the suspension of the constitution and the arrival of British troops. A candid, unofficial American perspective, the book presents news-making incidents as they punctuate everyday life.

“A miracle of retrieval, a mysterious package from the past that invites wonder as well as curiosity ... glimpses of long-vanished customs and attitudes ... offers a rare, firsthand view of the start of a Guianese political conundrum that still defies resolution.”  Frank Birbalsingh, Emeritus Professor of English and Senior Scholar, York University, Toronto

“Rich descriptions of life lived in British Guiana in the 1950s ... sheds new light on social, political, and everyday matters among the denizens of the colony. [The final chapter] and epilogue are gems of memory and reconstruction and the struggle of connecting past and present. Chapter 7 is a nuanced, balanced, and beautiful perspective on what Guyana represents for the author and her family and on her views of the country’s political divide, foreign intervention, and social travails up to the present.”  Nigel Westmaas, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York

  • 228 x 152 mm
  • 740 pages
  • Paperback

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