The Next Chapter

Why Rabindranath Maharaj wanted to explore memory loss and imagination in his latest novel

Adjacentland is a novel that takes readers on an unpredictable ride as the narrator desperately searches for any clue that will explain what is going on.
Rabindranath Maharaj is a Trinidadian-Canadian novelist, short story writer and editor. (Glenn Lowson/Wolsak & Wynn)

A man wakes up in a room alone without any memory of himself and nothing about the place makes any sense. This is how Rabindranath Maharaj begins Adjacentland, a novel that takes readers on an unpredictable ride as the narrator desperately searches for any clue that will explain what is going on. What he discovers is Adjacentland might be the only place where imagination has survived. Maharaj is a Trinidadian-Canadian novelist who is also the author of The Amazing Absorbing Boy

Forget me not

"Most of my previous novels began with an image I couldn't get rid of. In the case of Adjacentland, it began with observations. Whenever I visited Trinidad, I was confronted with the decline of my father, who had Alzheimer's disease. I began to see how someone could be emptied by forgetfulness and they struggle to fill the gaps. In filling in these gaps, sometimes there's a spurt of inventiveness."

Forming memories

"The main character believes he is the subject of an experiment. He awakens in a compound and, because we see everything through his eyes, we learn that it's an institution populated by loiterers. He comes into contact with three men who attempt to convince him that he is paranoid. As Adjacentland proceeds, he is convinced that the purpose of this experiment is to reignite the imagination he has lost.

"I began to think about the way that we are shaped by memories and what we are led to remember. I came to the view that everything is now presented in such a pre-digested manner that there are hardly these moments of reflection and of thoughts forming gradually. Ironically, the only place where the imagination still exists is Adjacentland. It's a primitive, barbaric kind of place of dreams, fancies and vendettas. It's a place that the narrators and characters are trying to reach."

Engaging the reader's mind

"Sometimes we can get to the truth through simplicity and innocence. I wanted to hint that sometimes the truth is far simpler than we may imagine. I wanted to have a child in Adjacentland, somebody with a simplicity of vision to explain things to the narrator and, to some extent, to the reader.

"Some people are going to hate Adjacentland, especially those who have grown accustomed to a particular kind of book that I may have written, as well as people who are looking for a straightforward story. But one way in which it is very similar to my previous immigrant novels is that it has to do with invention and reinvention. That is a common trope with most immigrant novels — and most immigrants."

Rabindranath Maharaj's comments have been edited and condensed.