Excerpt from Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Hungry Ghosts

A Novel

by Kevin Jared Hosein

Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein X
Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein
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  • Published:
    Feb 2023, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

A Gate to Hell

Sometime in the 1940s, Trinidad

Four boys ventured to the river to perform a blood oath. Two brothers and two cousins. The brothers were twins, both fifteen; the cousins, fourteen and thirteen. They passed around a boning knife, making clean cuts across their palms. The blood bubbled to the surface like their veins were boiling. They let the blood drip into a stolen bottle of cow's milk. They drank, passing the bottle around until all was gone. Then they hugged each other, a minute at a time, holding on tight as if the world were ending. When it was over, the rains came down so hard that the four boys thought the clouds would fall as well. The force of the water stung the wounds and washed them clean.

'Gonna have nothin more important than this,' the twins told the cousins.

The older brother christened their union with a name: Corbeau, for the large vulture, a carrion feeder, a bird that stays alive by seeking the dead.

Why not an ibis? Or a kingfisher? Or a peacock?

Because a corbeau will always be a corbeau, even if it trades its black feathers for a peacock's. It must eat corpses for breakfast, knowing to savour bowels and maggoty flesh, realising those too are meals fit for kings. For what is a king but one who is nourished by his kingdom? One that circles overhead, making his presence known. A corbeau will always be a corbeau – hated by the world that it will eventually eat.

The youngest boy was reluctant to identify with the scavenger bird until hearing it put like that. He was an only child, frail but uncommonly precocious. Large intelligent eyes. His nose deep in old, crumpled magazines. The frown of an old holy man in these troubling times. Skin so fair that the elders had said it was touched by the goddess Radha. He once had hair like a wild child, a haven of lice. Never wanted it combed. Ruffled it and teased it back out if anyone did.

This boy's name was Krishna Saroop.

Krishna was from a family of three.

The father, Hans, was in his early thirties. Sunkissed skin. Palms like pressed leather. He had eyes that smiled. The remnants of his marasmic childhood still perceptible. Sometimes his limbs seemed more spindly than they really were. But when he laboured in the canefields, he was as handsome and strong and spirited as the war god Subrahmanya. Worked hard his whole life for a pittance. Enough for a dust of flour from the Chinese merchants, some Bermudez biscuits and a scoop of ghee. And made do with it. For the past year, he'd worked on the Changoor estate, where he built fences and repaired doors and maintained the land. His job description changed every week because he could do everything.

The mother, Shweta, had sunken eyes that made her look as if she were always fighting slumber. A sturdy backbone and skin dark as the tilled earth. A stud on her left nostril to keep her from outside seduction. Always wore simple white cotton dresses that stopped midcalf, her muslin dupatta slung like a sash. When she saw her son in the morning, the flex in her cheeks became prominent. She kept a bandhania garden in a barrel trough. A few tulsi sprouts had inveigled their way in there over time. She let them be – things pushed themselves into life whether you liked them or not. It'd still be dark when she woke up to cook roti at the clay chulha using the firewood that her husband gathered on the weekends. On a good day, she would make pumpkin tarkari. Nothing was ever wasted. All left behind was used as fish bait. Life sprung from detritus. Bright pink lotuses in night soil.

The three lived in a sugarcane estate barrack. These barracks were scattered like half-buried bones across the plain, strewn from their colonial corpse. In their marrow, the ghosts of the indentured. And the offspring of those ghosts. This particular barrack sat by its lonesome, raw and jagged as a yanked tooth in the paragrass-spangled stretch of meadow, beyond the canefield, beyond the rice paddies, the village proper and the sugar mill – in a corner where God had to squint to see. Neighbour to nothing. One donkey-cart ride away from the closest dry goods store.

Excerpted from Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein. Copyright © 2023 by Kevin Jared Hosein. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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