“Augustown”: A Novel of the Sacred and the Profane in Jamaica

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[Many thanks to Ifeona Fulani for bringing this review from The New Yorker to our attention.] Laura Miller reviews Kei Miller’s Augustown (recent winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Literature). She underlines that his book “suggests that everything to know about human beings can be found in an overlooked little community, if you pay it sufficient attention.” Here is a short segment of the review (full review available at The New Yorker):

[. . .] “Augustown” doesn’t match the stereotype of a “poet’s novel”—that is, it isn’t introspective, replete with long passages of description, and scant of plot. Instead, it is stuffed with the characters and stories of hardscrabble Augustown, a former hamlet on the outskirts of St. Andrew founded by slaves freed in 1838. (It bears, as an introductory note explains, “an uncanny resemblance” to the real village of August Town, which was absorbed into the sprawl of Kingston.) The chapters tell of the flying preacher, but also the histories of Ma Taffy; her brainy niece, Gina; Clarky, a Rastafarian fruit vender bullied by policemen; a young gang leader who hides a cache of weapons under Ma Taffy’s house; the affluent light-skinned principal of Kaia’s primary school; and Mr. Saint-Josephs, a teacher at that school who triggers what Jamaicans call an “autoclaps,” or catastrophe, when, in a fit of pique, he cuts off Kaia’s dreadlocks.

Like Jane Austen’s “Emma,” “Augustown” is a village novel, and, even if (unlike “Emma”) it wears its politics on its sleeve, it exemplifies the belief that everything you want to know about human beings can be found in an overlooked, out-of-the-way little community, as long you pay it sufficient attention. Furthermore, as the novel’s mysterious, disembodied, and omniscient narrator explains from a perch somewhere in the sky above Augustown, “Each day contains much more than its own hours, or minutes, or seconds. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that every day contains all of history.” [. . .]

[Illustration by Keith Negley.]

For full review, see http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/22/augustown-a-novel-of-the-sacred-and-the-profane-in-jamaica

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