L is for Harold Sonny Ladoo (1945–1973)

Indo-Trinidadian author Harold Sonny Ladoo was born in McBean, Trinidad, in 1945, where he worked in the sugar cane fields. He migrated to Canada with his family in 1968 and enrolled at Erindale College, University of Toronto, where he attained a BA in 1972. The university’s Mississauga campus (formerly Erindale College) has established The Harold Sonny Ladoo Book Prize for Creative Writing, which is awarded to students every year, thus honouring Ladoo’s work and legacy. 

Fellow Trinidadian-Canadian writer Dionne Brand, who also studied at Erindale College around the same time, describes how Ladoo could be seen siting in the college cafeteria furiously writing his first debut novel, No Pain Like His Body (1972), which he completed whilst finishing his degree and working (Peter Such; Dionne Brand). His friend, the Canadian writer Peter Such also mentions Ladoo’s uninterrupted writing and describes first meeting him at Islington subway station, in his essay ‘The Short Life and Sudden Death of Harold Ladoo.’ Such describes seeing a man “jotting words down in the back of a TTC transfer. It could have been a shopping list he was writing, an address, anything. But I had a strange and certain feeling I knew what it was. I’d done exactly the same thing myself.”

In their introductions to the 2003 and 2013 reprints of the novel, authors David Chariandy and Dionne Brand, respectively, highlight Ladoo’s intense and unsentimental portrayal of life in the plantation from the perspective and voice of the children who navigate it. Kevin Jared Hosein is a contemporary Trinidadian writer who credits Ladoo’s influence, describing No Pain Like His Body as a brave, experimental novel and one of his favourite Caribbean books.

No Pain Like His Body quickly gained wide critical acclaim after its publication, and Ladoo was awarded grants from Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council. Although the novel remains an influential Caribbean text, Ladoo’s career as a writer was cut short by his untimely and tragic death in 1973, when he was murdered during a visit to Trinidad. Ladoo’s second novel, Yesterdays, was published posthumously in 1974, and his short story ‘A Quiet Peasant’ is included in Trinidad Noir: The Classics (2017). 

The biographical account in the 2013 edition of No Pain Like This Body notes that Ladoo “left behind him a large collection of manuscripts: two further novels, many short stories and poems,” pointing to the existence of more unpublished work by Ladoo.

Marta Fernández Campa

More about the author

A profile of Ladoo from the Pan-African collective Cases Rebelles, written in French.

Ladoo’s biography on Wikipedia includes his legacy on Indo-Caribbean literature.

Peter Such’s essay, “The Short Life and Sudden Death of Harold Ladoo,” is available in full here.

The poet Dennis Lee wrote “The Death of Harold Ladoo,” published in boundary 2 in 1976, to commemorate his friend’s life.

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