New Book—“Song for My Father: A West Indian Journey”

S. Brian Samuel’s Song for My Father: A West Indian Journey (Ian Randle Publishers, 2023) tells “a different narrative of the West Indian father.” Samuel will be presenting his newly published memoir this year at the Bocas Lit Fest, taking place from April 28 to 30, in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Cover Blurb: In 1942 my father, Darwin Fitzgerald (‘Gerry’) Samuel, boards a British ship and leaves his native Grenada, bound for war-torn Britain. He worked in the armaments industry, qualified as a teacher, and married Scottish nurse Nelleen Hogan. In 1950, two years after the Empire Windrush had opened the flood gates to England, our father went home with his young family: a man on the up. Pity, it wouldn’t last.

One fateful day in 1960 while living in Trinidad, my mother walked out on us without warning or nary a goodbye to her three young sons, thrusting us into the sole care of our father. To say our father was unprepared is putting it mildly: he was in a state of shock, for he had no inkling of this pending abandonment by his wife of ten years. But despite his shock there was one thing he would never do: abandon his sons. Teacher, seeker, writer, Renaissance man, and most of all Nomad, that was my father. Unlike most of the Windrush Generation, our journey didn’t end after we got off the ship in Liverpool – that was just the beginning. By the time I turned 18, I’d already lived in five countries: Grenada, Trinidad, Guyana, England and USA.

In 1971 came my father’s finest move: Jamaica. In one seminal year, my life was transformed: from a dumbed-down, low self-esteem immigrant kid in London, into a newly confident 6th former, about to enter university. Jamaica in the 70s was the world epicentre of street cred, with its heady mixture of Marley and Manley, Reggae and Rasta – interspersed with large doses of murder and mayhem. After my father died, suddenly and shockingly, my brothers and I (who really are called Tom and Gerry) went in search of our long-lost mother, and what we found was way more than we’d bargained for.

Follow me as we go from the hills of Grenada to the arse end of London in an unforgettable West Indian journey, full of dramatic twists and escapades. This is my story – my tribute to our father and to all those unsung fathers, who have ‘mothered’ countless generations of Caribbean men and women.

Excerpts: What if I told you that my father was a real bastard, the worst imaginable. That he fathered three sons with his wife and then abandoned her: heartbroken and penniless. What if I told you that he slept with my mother’s best friend and turned his back on his family, becoming a complete non-entity in the lives of his young sons. What if I told you that despite having such a father, we were lucky to have the best mother in the world, a mother who raised her three sons on her own, who put clothes on our backs and food on the table, despite her own considerable financial struggles.

What would you say if I told you all that? You’d say: join the line, it’s par for the course of West Indian families. Well, the same narrative applies to me – but in reverse. It was our British mother who flew the coop, and our Grenadian father who stayed behind. It was my father who raised me and my two brothers (who really are called Tom and Gerry), my father who cooked for us (he was awful), cleaned for us (well sort of), comforted us (and beat us too, when we needed it). He was, pardon the reverse cliché, my father who mothered me. So, who was this man? [. . .]

He was one of a kind, our father: teacher, seeker, writer, Renaissance man and lifelong nomad: by the time I turned eighteen, I’d already lived in six countries, two of them twice. Bringing up three sons on his own, our father took us on a rollicking ride: from the hills of Grenada to the arse end of London, the White House, Buckingham Palace and beyond. We were the original latchkey kids: with our father spending most evenings at night school or selling World Book encyclopaedias door-to-door, you can imagine the world of trouble three boys could get into! Unlike most of the Windrush Generation, our family journey didn’t end after we got off the boat in Liverpool – that was just the beginning. [. . .]

Who was Darwin Samuel? What is his legacy, his song? Was he a saint? Believe me, my father was far, far from a saint! But he did possess some saintly qualities, chiefly his determination to raise his children on his own, giving us a broad range of experiences along the way. He had his failings of course, who doesn’t? He was a product of his time, and in some ways ahead of his time. Anti-colonialist in politics; colonialist in culture. He instilled in us a very strong sense that we were (a) West Indian, and (b) black. He had a passion for learning, a passion, sadly, partially fulfilled, he wrote on my graduation programme: ‘To my son Brian: as the first Samuel to achieve an academic degree – I salute you.’ I’d never thought about it that way, and it really moved me. Wish I still had it.

After my father’s sudden death in 1975, I discovered a box full of his journals, photographs and letters, a window into my father in his own words. After holding onto these memories for over forty years, I decided to add my own voice. [. . .]

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