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by Andrea Levy

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-312-42664-X
Publisher: Picador

By the author of Small Island (2005), which won both the Orange and Whitbread Prizes, an engaging tale of emerging race identity and heritage, first published in the UK in 1999.

More comic than Small Island, this book charts Faith Jackson’s growing, increasingly positive acknowledgement of her blackness, her ancestry and her position in late-20th-century England. Her parents came to England—the Mother Country—from Jamaica on a banana boat, settled, worked hard and had two children, Faith and her brother Carl, who grew up in a happy household in London. Faith, who knows almost nothing about her parents’ past or her relatives in Jamaica, takes a degree in fashion and textiles, then moves out of the family home into a shared house and gets a job at the BBC. So far, so normal, except that whether seeking a promotion at work or visiting the country home of one of her white housemates, she repeatedly encounters ingrained, unacknowledged British racism. Her parents’ plans to retire to Jamaica and a violent right-wing attack on a black woman working in a local bookshop tip the balance, and Faith has a breakdown. To help her recover, she is sent to Jamaica to visit her aunt. On the island, Faith meets her relations and begins to piece together her family tree. A sequence of anecdotes and vignettes—stories of skin color, poverty, hard work, elitism, aspiration and emigration—reveals the tradition from which she has emerged. Levy neatly exposes the complex history of black Jamaicans in this series of episodes, which provides Faith with an answer for those bullies and racists: “I am the bastard child of Empire and I will have my day.”

An enjoyable, deft combination of humor and telling observation on owning one’s race and roots.