Guyanese writer tackles sexual abuse in debut novel

Julia Kanhai signing copies her recent book launch.

A childhood dream of being a writer has now become a reality for Julia Kanhai, who recently published her first novel Backslider.

The novel traces the story of a pastor’s daughter who tries to assert her independence especially in her personal life. On her first date she is drugged by a serial rapist who poses as a Christian bachelor. In a quest for revenge she commits a few crimes but eventually decides between drowning in her pain and resurfacing to face her God.

The book vividly describes the trauma, denial, depression and doubts a victim experiences as well as small steps one can take towards regaining trust.

Julia Kanhai signing copies her recent book launch.
Julia Kanhai signing copies her recent book launch.

One of the main themes Julia addresses is child abuse. While acknowledging that writing on the topic would not eradicate the problem, she hopes that by raising awareness she could trigger even “the smallest change”. Additionally, she said she wanted to defy the taboo generally associated with speaking about the various forms of sexual abuse noting that victims should not carry the shame that they often do. The perpetrators are the ones who should carry the shame, she stressed.

While the book is fictional, Kanhai explained that a lot of the material came from the experiences of others.  “I am a relatively young person yet I have heard enough horrendous stories of sexual abuse to last me ten lifetimes. Frankly, I just became so saturated and needed to do and say something to help represent the countless victims who are suffering every day,” she told The Scene.

“It breaks my heart every time I hear about another man, woman or child in Guyana who is victimized sexually. One feels ever more paralyzed when it’s someone you know who has been brutalized, as was the case for me. I wanted to do something more for them than just listen and comfort: I wanted to help them to find their voice. And so my book is dedicated to the one whose voice was never heard,” she continued.

Perhaps it was her eagerness to help victims that pushed Julia to quickly complete her manuscript. She completed the first draft of her book in three days. A feat, she says, many people find difficult to believe. “I guess it was easy for me to produce a story so quickly because I knew what is was I needed to say, but [I] surprised myself at times by how I said it,” she explained. It was this first draft that she emailed to potential publishers and which received positive feedback.

She later self-published the book and later it had released in the USA, Australia and England.

She said that given the strong influence of the American culture on Guyanese she felt that if it was successful overseas it would be accepted by Guyanese residing both here and abroad. So far the response has been encouraging.

Meanwhile, Julia, who is an English lecturer at the University of Guyana, is preparing the manuscript for her next book, Dream Guy. This is intended to be a sequel to Backslider.

Copies of Backslider cost $5,000 and are available at EMTEC headquarters located at 80 Duncan Street, Newtown Kitty as well as Austin’s Bookstore.






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