THE FINAL PASSAGE by Caryl Phillips


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The prize-winning first novel by West Indian Phillips (Higher Ground, A State of Independence), published for the first time in the US: a moving stow of a young woman determined to escape the bleak life of her small native West Indian island, ""overburdened with vegetation and complacency."" Set in the 1950's, when thousands of West Indians emigrated to Britain in search of abetter life, the novel is the story of the remarkable Leila. The daughter of a black mother and a white father, the latter of whom she never knew, Leila lives with her ailing mother in a small village. Soon after her birth, her mother--naming three men as Leila's putative father--has collected money sufficient for Leila's dowry. Strict, undemonstrative, and fearful that Leila's life might turn out like her own, she never really talks to her daughter, though Leila longs for such conversations. Later, her mother disapproves of her marriage to Michael, an unemployed but charismatic young man who has been living with another woman. Less than the ideal husband, Michael spends most of his time with his married mistress. Leila's mother leaves for England without telling her, just before Leila's son Calvin is born. His birth and her mother's departure convince Leila that only in England will her marriage and fortunes improve. But she discovers life there to be no less bleak than at home: racism is pervasive, her mother dies, Michael abandons her, and she is pregnant again. Site decides to return to the island where she at least had safety and friends, and is now prepared to pay the price for ""the stern predictability"" of life there. An affecting account of a young woman--torn by ambition, love, duty, and the claims of two very different societies--who has tremendous will to survive. In this fine novel, Phillips catches all the nuances of language and landscape that distinguish the two places, and in Leila has created a memorable heroine.

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 1989
ISBN: 067975931X
Publisher: Penguin