Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Augustown by Kei Miller

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Augustown is a poor suburb of Kingston, Jamaica, set up by the slaves set free by royal decree on 1st August 1838. It is also closely associated with Alexander Bedward, the preacher who inspired Bedwardism, the roots from which Rastafarianism grew.

Kei Miller’s novel takes place largely in 1982, when most of those who remember Bedward are dead or dying and the events of his life have become tales told by grandmothers like Ma Taffy. Those events might seem incredible, but the narrator (whose identity we do not learn until the end of the book) defies the reader to classify this as ‘magic realism.’

"Look, this isn’t magic realism. This is not another story about primitive island people and their superstitious beliefs. No. You don’t get off that easy."

On the day that Ma Taffy sits up straight on her verandah and smells something high and ripe in the air, she knows an autoclapse is coming. ( Autoclapse: (Noun) Jamaican Dialect. An impending disaster; Calamity; Trouble on top of trouble.)

From that point, the novel moves back and forth across the timelines. As all the pieces slot into place, the picture revealed is an allegory Jamaica’s long struggle to free itself from the bonds of slavery.

The march of the bobo shanties becomes the march of Augustown – another inching, another ‘trodding’ towards someplace they have been trying to reach for over a hundred and fifty years.

Miller’s gorgeous prose immerses us in the world of Augustown, tantalising every sense.

It is parakeets that announce the evening. They fill the Augustown sky, flying from mango tree to mango tree and dropping their green feathers on the ground. They screech what sounds almost like a song: Evening time, work is over now is evening time!

A stunning novel that takes modern Jamaican history (and the history of Rastafarianism in particular) and spins from it a fable the might stand for any people suffering from ingrained economic disadvantage and religious intolerance. Longlisted for the inaugural Jhalak Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Disposable People by Ezekel Alan, Technologies of the Self by Haris Durrani, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories that sidle over the edge of realism

Perfect Accompaniment: Callaloo, ugli fruit and sweet, sweet oranges

Genre: Literary Fiction, Fiction from the Caribbean

Available on Amazon

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