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History A Perspective:
Godfrey Chin's Nostalgias

By Ian McDonald, Stabroek News
Sunday, December 16th 2007

The Saturday before last Godfrey Chin's book Nostalgias was launched at the Sidewalk Cafe. It was a lively and well-organised event highlighted by a fascinating slide show of scores of old Georgetown buildings with running commentary by the exuberant author on the significance of each building in the old days.

The book is subtitled Golden Memories of Guyana 1940 to 1980. It is a remarkable book. More remarkable still, it is a distillation of just 48 memories out of more than 300 such pieces written down by the author since 2000. And Godfrey at 70 years of age continues to write these wonderful sketches with endless industry and unrivalled panache springing them off every page at us with matchless freshness and fervour.

Quite simply, I believe this endeavour on which Godfrey has embarked late in his eventful life is one of the outstanding achievements of his generation. When I first got a copy of the printed book I sent Godfrey the following message:

"It is truly a classic of its kind - a recapturing of vivid memories, bringing the past astonishingly to life again in a way which will delight those who knew those days, instruct future generations and also enlighten serious scholars of social history and preserve forever the wonderful days and exploits and fun and excitement and humour and games and more of a whole era in a country's life. You have done a great service. You deserve praise and thanks and honours. And it is good to think that there are other volumes of Nostalgias waiting to be published in the future. This will be your life's masterpiece - a five-volume Remembrance of Things Past."

I meant every word. This work is indeed a classic of its kind. Here are six points about Godfrey's Nostalgias which make them truly compelling:

* They are wonderfully entertaining. Here we see the art of living in all its glorious variety thrown onto Godfrey's own special canvas.

* This is an extraordinary feat of memory and creative recall. Very few people have the gift of photographic memory which delves deeply into the past and even fewer have the wonderful gift of making recollection come so vibrantly alive.

* These Nostalgias of Godfrey's are remarkable in their rich profusion. The subject list is as long as life itself in all its variety and the detail is astonishing. The never-ending profusion of exact memories crowding Godfrey's gallery again and again amazes me and they are never-ending. Anyone could suggest a subject to Godfrey - sweeties, say, or seawall or sugar estates or dominoes or the old D'Urban racetrack or anything you like - and, hardly pausing, Godfrey could produce a Nostalgia which will make you laugh and wonder and say yes that is how it was.

* These Nostalgias marvellously enhance and enrich our lives by bringing to vivid life again events, people, ways of enjoying ourselves, sports, festivities, food, frolic and a thousand and one things which had faded from our memories and our lives and now live again as fresh as ever.

* Godfrey's style is all his very own and it is immediately recognizable and perfectly suited to its purpose. Godfrey has a wonderful knack for joyous story-telling prose which is robust, carefree, optimistic, racy and memorably written in lovely easy sentences of great impact.

* Finally, I believe Godfrey's Nostalgias make a truly remarkable, even unique, contribution to our social, cultural, sporting and general history. This is valuable, priceless material for historians. I think what a treasure these Nostalgias will be not only to ordinary readers but also to historians and scholars decades and more into the future. These Nostalgias delight us now and in future they will provide a wonderful fund of knowledge for those who research and look into how we once lived.

So it is that an ordinary "cook-shop fly," as Godfrey describes himself, is in the process of creating an immensely rich panorama of Guyana's past which constantly keeps us stimulated and in high good humour in the present, and which will endure as an infinitely varied, vivid, unforgettable portrait of pastimes, traditions, places and people in a by-gone era. I cannot think of an achievement in living history to match this in Guyana or, indeed, in the Caribbean.


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