A tale of love and struggle that crosses decades and continents.
This is Forbes’ (Ghosts, 2014, etc.) fifth work of fiction, and she writes with the confidence and poetic nerve of a seasoned veteran. In 1958, four years before Jamaica’s independence from Britain, a woman named Rachel finds an abandoned baby in a wicker basket. She names him Moshe, or Moses, and raises him as her own. Moshe was born with skin that had not yet fully developed. He’s neither black nor white. He’s bluish, with his veins visible beneath his thin, translucent skin. One eye is blue and the other is brown, and the hair on the front of his head is bleach blond while the hair on the back is black. Moshe’s appearance marks him: “The child seemed to represent some kind of perverse alchemy that had taken place in the deep earth, between tectonic plates, where he was fashioned. People said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” As a child, Moshe’s only friend is Arrienne, who in many ways is all that Moshe is not. She is loud, assertive, strong, and, in later years, becomes a political activist. He is solitary, insecure, and quietly artistic. Yet the love between them stretches across decades and follows Moshe as he leaves Jamaica and finds fame as an artist in England. Forbes lets her novel sing with all the languages of Jamaica and Britain. She has an uncanny knack for patois and dialect, including Jamaican English, the Queen’s English, and everything in between. In some ways this book tells a story of a love too deep to become romantic. In other ways it’s a novel of colonialism and its tragic aftermath of racism and economic despair. But most of all, the book is a journey. The characters are so vivid, their depictions so intimate, that the skin of the pages themselves almost pulse beneath the reader’s fingers.
A powerful journey into the souls of two lovers, two countries, and the people caught in the wakes of empires.