Prizewinning poet Goodison (English/Univ. of Michigan; Goldengrove, 2006, etc.) pays tribute to her Jamaican heritage.
Starting in the mid-19th century, when her English great-grandfather, William Harvey, established a homestead next to the mighty river that would eventually bear his name, the author doesn’t so much trace events as animate the characters of her relatives who lived them. Readers seeking a detailed record of Jamaican history should look elsewhere, for Goodison unveils intimate worlds teeming with all the local flavor and poignancy of a Zora Neale Hurston novel. The five “fabulous Harvey girls” of her mother’s generation spark her particular interest, she writes, and “the place that had produced my mother’s people…was to shape my imagination for the rest of my life.” Describing the Harvey River, her family’s metaphorical life source, Goodison brings the memoir back to herself: “There are lost pearls and hopeless cases and the bones of runaway Africans down there as well as wedges of iron-hard brown soap which the women of Harvey River used to wash acres of clothes in this same river. As long as I swim in it, I will be borne to safety.” Yet the story isn’t really about her, except as the lucky offspring of people deeply, happily rooted in their family history. In a funny passage from the afterword to the U.S. edition, Goodison sends home a rapturous letter describing a breathtaking New York City sunset over the water, and her mother replies, “Who were the Hudsons that the river was named after?”
A tender, thoughtful portrait of four generations, prompting hopes that the author’s first full-length prose work won’t be her last.