Friday, August 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2068- Kei Miller: Augustown

A friend of mine recommended Kei Miller's novel Augustown. Whenever a friend recommends a book, it's  nerve-wracking. What if I didn't like it and he wound up asking me what I thought? I was also hesitant that I'd need more of a knowledge of Jamaica in order to appreciate it.

The first fear was easily cast aside as I could tell early on that I was going to love it. The style was instantly engaging; unique perspective and delivery (touches of magical realism but not confusing like most books I've read that would fall under that description), rich imagery and defined voices, characters that felt real, and strong, provocative themes (classism, racism).

As for my lack of Jamaican culture interfering with my enjoyment or understanding, I say that it wasn't an issue, though I would also think it obvious that my friend appreciated it on many different levels than I seeing as he's from Kingston.

Of course, as readers it's almost a given that we'll compare and contrast books to our our own knowledge and experience. I found myself, for instance, comparing it to Michael Crummey's Galore, a novel set in Newfoundland and considering how both books presented history in mythical tones with the magic diminishing over time until the present day (though Miller also makes a subtle point about legacy and the keepers of knowledge, suggesting that it's not as simple as a downward slope on a graph.)

There was also a very significant plot point about a young Rastafarian boy having his hair cut as punishment from a teacher. As a boy in outport Newfoundland, hair was not of huge importance to me (unless mullets count), but I was able to better grasp the significance of that scene due to the stories we still sometimes here of white teachers cutting the hair of Indigenous boys right here in Canada.

It's a book that will stick with me for a long time.

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