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THE TRIANGLE ROUTE: THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF AN ORDINARY MAN

Reviewed By R Leonard Bartholomew


Thursday, November 07, 2013.

 

 

 The human spirit will always trump the material safeguards of wealth or privilege – that’s the message from accountant turned writer E.A Samuels, whose enthralling memoir The Triangle Route – the Extraordinary Journey of an Ordinary Man (Woodfield), charts his unlikely rise from Caribbean street urchin to senior financial executive of two Fortune 500 companies. The rag to riches theme is, of course, the common fare to be found in the autobiography section in any bookstore.  Yet what this reviewer found refreshing is the writer’s decision to not make heavy weather of the poverty he experienced as a child, but rather, to look at it as a mere backdrop to an aggressively positive outlook on life.

In the following extract, Mr Samuels recalls a train journey across Jamaica that he experienced as a child:

 "On one occasion, I needed to use the bathroom and was shocked to see the rails rushing by when I looked down into the toilet bowl. There was no collection tank on the train toilets so all the waste matter fell onto the tracks....eventually dried up by the hot tropical sun. Land crabs I was told roamed the tracks and helped in the disposal process. This was truly amazing."

When the author was born Jamaica was still a British colony, but one which Europe’s greatest empire could ill afford, struggling as it was with social change at home, an economic downswing wrought by the second world war, and having to fall in line with a new world order headed by The Soviet Union and the United States. Not surprisingly, the author in common with compatriots in the English-speaking Caribbean came to view the United States as a new Jerusalem - and themselves as the independent minded children of a waning colonial power.

But it was in Britain that Mr Samuels spent some of his formative years, eating fish and chips from inky newspapers and feeling nonplussed by the privations of a post war Britain where the white and black underclass endured hardships not  yet visited on his island.   And yet - surprisingly different to a slew of Caribbean writers in English - Samuels' focus is not on England. His experience here as a child is dealt with briefly, placed summarily at the start of the book and barely echoes any major influence on his adult life.

It’s the Jamaican and American experience - Mr Samuels refers to himself as Jamerican - which animates this engaging account of one man’s march from the margins.

The tough Jamaican tenement yards in which Mr Samuels was raised, one ironically called Hamptons, are presented here as cruel schools for the rapid begetting of wisdom. In these, the heavy threat of casual violence - often accompanied with extravagant verbal abuse - dovetailed neatly with the most unexpected generosity and compassion.

“Survival in a tenement environment involves walking a fine line between insisting on getting what is rightfully yours and relinquishing some of these rights....it requires the application of interpersonal skills and use of conflict resolution techniques that the participants acquire in this crucible of poverty.”

Memorable characters from the tenements with names like “Ma-mud”, “Pa- clay” and “Little Wicked”  - "so named because of her small stature and aggressive demeanour" - are scene stealers in this sometimes shocking but always compelling account:

 “[Little Wicked and Miss Rachael] were continually quarrelling over who should sweep the yard. But when Miss Rachael became ill and had to be admitted to hospital, Little Wicked was the one who cooked for Miss Rachael’s small children and combed her daughter’s hair for school.”

 The writer’s experiences in New York - where he worked variously as a put upon doorman and a rail track labourer, while studying for an MBA - again reveal that unshakeable faith in humanity and of experience being life's best teacher:

 “The construction work was hard and backbreaking but it had its positive effects. I had been overweight when I started working, but in no time had become chiselled and muscular, the result of lifting heavy wooden ties and swinging the spiking hammer from morning to evening. I was literally being paid to exercise."

Sometimes the narrative dips into the sentimental, but the writer could be forgiven this – it is after all a rag to riches tale – although some would reject his sunny optimistic view that “human nature is basically good”,  especially in light of the extremes he experienced in the tenements and as an immigrant sleeping al fresco on New York’s streets.

 

Mr Samuels' recollections - which frustratingly span only ages four to twenty seven - remain an astonishing page turner, an often humorous, always accessible self portrait of an ordinary man – a Mr Nobody that you would love to meet by the end of the book.

 

The Triangle Route – the Extraordinary Journey of an Ordinary Man 

Author: E.A Samuels

Publisher: Woodfield

R Leonard Bartholomew is Director of Seriously Good Publicity. He can be reached on Facebook as ‘sgpcomms’ and by email at sgpcomms@gmail.com

 

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