SEASONS OF DUST by Ifeona Fulani


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Proof that you can go home again, courtesy of a Jamaican-born and British-reared first-novelist. Fulani is a marvelous scene-setter, whether of country village in Jamaica or squalid rooming house in London, but her characters never quite fill up the vividly described places she puts them in. A further quibble, minor to be sure, has to do with her exact rendering of Jamaican speech, which may be scholastically admirable but, without footnotes or even a brief lexicon, makes the reading often more an exercise in linguistics than the enjoyment of a tale. The story follows the lives of the Erskine family--father Ray, mother Esme, and children Tessa and Steven--who, like thousands of others, leave Jamaica in the 1950s hoping for a better life in England, where good jobs are plentiful. Once there, they do find work easily and, despite racial prejudice, prosper, soon buying a house and a car. But Esme, a bitter woman whose hard childhood has soured her, quarrels with Ray, treats her children harshly, even abusively, and the marriage falls apart when she goes off with another man. Ray raises the children, but he, also scarred, is overly demanding. Tessa survives, going on to college and eventually holding a good job, but Steven does not. A school dropout, he gets in with a bad crowd, falls in love with manic-depressive Loretta, sells drugs, and has a series of breakdowns. Now in her late 30s, Tessa finds both her life and work unsatisfying. A vacation and a joyful family reunion in Jamaica, followed by a chance to quit her job, brings her back permanently. Now, finally at home, she makes peace with Esme, who's also returned. Luminously written if not always powerfully forward-moving: a poignant reminder of the costs of leaving a home where the extended family's affection is warm and welcoming, though the living's not so easy.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 261pp
Publisher: Writers & Readers--dist. by PGW