Parents' Best Intentions Go Awry in 'Golden Child'

Posted by Goodreads on January 16, 2019
The debut novel Golden Child by Claire Adam follows the lives of a family as they navigate impossible choices about scarcity, loyalty, and love. The story takes place in Adam's home country of Trinidad, where a hardworking family lives a quiet life until one of their 13-year-old twins disappears into the bush, setting into motion a series of heartbreaking decisions.

In honor of her first book, Adam talked to Goodreads about how remembering the sacrifices she saw many people make in Trinidad during the 1980s and '90s during a mass emigration out of the country inspired her novel.

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Goodreads: Summarize your book for readers.

Claire Adam: It's set on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, which might seem like a remote and exotic place, but really at its heart it's just a story about an ordinary family—a family with dreams for their children—and the extent of the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made. There's a father, a mother, and twin boys who are very different—one academically gifted, the other a bit odd, possibly a little wayward—and there's the struggle for a better life. The boys' parents are determined to do the best they can for them—but, as we see in the book, sometimes even the best intentions can go horribly awry.

Goodreads: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

CA: I was born and raised in Trinidad. (My father is Trinidadian, and my mother is Irish. They were both doctors, and they met while working at a hospital together in England.) I left Trinidad at 18 and spent four years at Brown University; after I graduated, I moved to Europe and have pretty much stayed here ever since. I live in London now with my husband and two children.

I was always writing—I always kept notebooks. I was fortunate to grow up in a house with many books, and this was one of the things I picked up from reading books and reading about writers’ lives: Always have a notebook on hand. While I was in Trinidad, I kept notebooks; while I was at Brown, I kept notebooks; later, trudging around various European countries, I always had a notebook. The stuff I wrote was mostly fragmentary, but occasionally when I had a bit of time and space to myself, the fragments grew into something bigger. Then, after I had my first child, I rolled up my sleeves and decided it was time to get serious with this writing thing. I had a sense of time running out.

GR: What sparked the idea for Golden Child?

CA: It started with Clyde, the father of the twin boys. He arrived fully formed, and he never changed throughout the time that it took to write the book, even as I worked through various drafts. He cut a very lonely figure—here was a man who knew he had no one on his side, and yet he was going to stand up for what he felt he had to do.

I knew he was in Trinidad; that also was clear. During the 1980s and 1990s, the time when this book is set, there was a wave of mass emigration out of Trinidad. The global drop in oil prices had gutted our economy, and people were scrambling to get out. Sometimes mothers or fathers went on ahead—to the United States, Canada, Europe—to get settled. They found jobs, often very low-paying jobs initially, and slept on relatives’ couches, or they rented the cheapest, smallest apartments possible, way out of town. We used to hear about well-qualified, respected people who had left Trinidad and were sweeping streets in Brooklyn or Queens.

It was only many years later, after I’d been settled in Europe for some time, that I looked back on those years and was struck by the determination of all those parents who had chosen to emigrate, and by how much they were willing to sacrifice so that their children could have the chance at a better life. I thought a lot about that determination—all the planning and strategizing, the saving, sacrificing, the constant worrying. I realized what a burden it was and that this was the burden Clyde carried.

GR: Did you find yourself influenced by any particular books or authors as you worked on your debut?

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CA: Well, one tries not to be influenced. Actually, that was one unexpected thing that I found quite difficult, that I had to stay away from books I really admired or that I knew I would find absorbing, because other writers’ voices tend to get into my ear and come out in my own writing.

I stayed away from all other books by Caribbean authors. I just didn’t want to know anyone else’s perspective: I wanted to protect my own perspective, however right or wrong or biased or unbiased it was. I felt that was important. And with grim determination, I stayed far away from V.S. Naipaul. At one stage, though, I couldn’t help myself, and I pulled A House for Mr. Biswas off the shelf and peeked into it. I’d never read it (I’d only ever read Miguel Street in school), and I was a bit horrified—horrified by how good it was, how confident this man’s voice was, and, in comparison, how feeble my own work seemed. I closed it quickly!

But to answer your question, in the more positive sense I suppose I should mention Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. I read this book some years before I started Golden Child, and I read it again and again as I was working on my early drafts. There was something magnetic about it. The simple sentences—this happens, then that happens—none of the page-turning “suspense” that I had seen in other novels, and yet a sense of disequilibrium, a vague sense of danger. Not necessarily danger in the conventional sense—although, of course, that comes up too—but something to do with the precariousness of each character’s existence, even as they were doing simple things like digging in the soil or driving to a daughter’s house. There was a sense, moment to moment, of surprise at the characters’ continued state of existence. But I’m saying all that now as I’m thinking back on the book; what I admired most during the time that I was reading and rereading it was how the arc of the story went from here to there so simply and cleanly, with no wrong turns or distractions or dilutions. I felt that it was the kind of writing I wanted to produce.

GR: What was your writing process for Golden Child?

CA: This kind of question comes up a lot, and I understand why because I, too, have often been curious about other writers’ working methods. But now that I’m on this side, it feels like a rather personal question, like asking to see inside an actor’s dressing room, maybe, or a lady’s boudoir! It feels a little private is what I mean. Also, my rather selfish instinct is that it’s not helpful to me to discuss this at any great length—too much talking or thinking about process is going to distract me from the primary goal, which is to produce new work. In any case, I’m not sure whether there’s any value in anyone knowing whether I write a thousand words a day or a hundred words a day, or whether I write in the morning or the evening. The process pretty much boils down to what you’d expect: Get words on the page.

GR: Your book is the second publication for Sarah Jessica Parker’s literary fiction imprint, SJP for Hogarth. She has said that she wants to find books that represent “global voices about unknown places, cultures, faiths. People whose stories feel foreign in a very compelling and intriguing way.” What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

CA: I suppose what people take away depends on which of the characters they most identify with. There’s Clyde, the father, who’s determined to do his best for his children. This man is like an unstoppable force: He is not a rich or powerful man, but he has a sort of iron will—once he’s made up his mind about something, there’s no stopping him. There are the two sons—Peter, very bright, very hardworking, burdened by the weight of his father’s expectations for him; and Paul, who knows he is not the favored son and recognizes early on that he will have to fend for himself.

Some readers may feel that this story reflects something of their own lives: something about having to work very hard, perhaps, or something about the sacrifices that they’ve had to make or that someone has had to make for them. Some people might find it difficult to believe that things like this ever happen; other people will know only too well how often they do happen.

Whatever a reader’s personal response, my only hope is that people come away with some measure of respect for these characters. Not respect in the sense of admiration, but in the sense that, for example, Clyde may be a poor man, an uneducated man, he may live on a little island, he may make decisions that you—from the comfort of your armchair—might never be called upon to make, but his life deserves a certain amount of respect.

GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

CA: I'm reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles for the first time. I'd heard about this book over the years, of course, and I knew it was something to do with this character, Tess, being shamed as a result of some sexual encounter, but when I tried to read it, years ago in college, I couldn't get into it at all. It seemed very boring, the kind of book that we're all supposed to read out of a sense of duty, as some sort of homage—paying to the literary canon. Now that I'm rereading it, I can see why I was put off: The opening few pages are full of "king" this and "sir" that, all the old-fashioned language of the English aristocracy; I assumed that the whole book would continue in that vein. Actually, it only goes on for a few paragraphs, and once you get past that bit, it's a completely enthralling story. I'm surrendering myself to it without slowing down to analyze, but I can't help but notice—and admire—how it's done. It's very rich in action; things happen; each action has consequences, and the story moves forward by means of characters' actions and the consequences of actions.

In terms of what I've been recommending—Sally Rooney, of course: Conversations with Friends and her new book, Normal People. I devoured them each within 24 hours, easily. And the recent Booker Prize winner, Milkman by Anna Burns—that's another fantastic book. It's set in Northern Ireland during the time of the Troubles, and it's narrated by a girl who stands out for simple things such as "reading-while-walking" and is pursued by the ominous milkman. It takes a couple of pages to get into, but I found it hard to put down after that. The audiobook is excellent, too.

GR: What’s next for you? Any preview you can give readers?

CA: I don’t like to say too much, as it’s still early and anything could happen, but so far it’s looking like the next book won’t have anything to do with Trinidad. And I think there’s a girl. Golden Child turned out to be all about men, which wasn’t entirely intentional, and I think I would like to turn my attention to a different sort of character. That’s all I can say for now. It feels good to have one book under my belt, the first major milestone past: It feels like permission to keep on working.

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Ali (new)

Ali shoeib What was interesting you to write this book? at first , i thought the book was related to genius children and how to discover them , improving their skillful way of thinking; but it was related about the suffering emigrant people.Thanks.

message 2: by Fulasade (new)

Fulasade Taylor I honestly don't usually read the newsletter but today somehow I managed to and I think I'll be following them from now on! I'm also Trinidadian so was pleasantly surprised and proud to see someone from our little island being featured by Goodreads! :D The book sounds like a great and interesting read, will definitely go looking for it :)

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