Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Long Song by Andrea Levy


DATE READ: March 2010 (audiobook)

NOTES: Andrea Levy’s latest book is a joy! An old Jamaican woman, July, recounts her life at the behest of her son. She tells of her childhood on the Amity plantation, of slave uprisings and how slavery ended. We learn about how she was conceived, how she became separated from her mother and about her life as a house slave. We are not spared the cruelties of the slave-owners and their disregard for the people in their possession. There are some truly horrific episodes described in a direct and matter-of-fact way. But what makes the narrative so impressive is how the character of July shines through. She often addresses the reader directly and tells us that she thinks we now know enough about what happened. She also complains constantly about her son (who she obviously adores) – she says that he forgets to bring her new writing supplies and sometimes criticises what she has produced. In this way the reader learns that July sometimes embroiders her story and tells it as she would have liked it to happen.

It goes without saying that the whole slavery industry in the West Indies was cruel in the extreme and the ill effects of it remain to this day. But this is no “misery memoir”. The slaves themselves learn to be overtly submissive but all the time they are scoring small victories….. bottles of rum are stolen, buttons from the mistress’s blouse are pocketed and instructions to use the best Irish linen tablecloth are ignored (and a stained bed-sheet is used instead!) Levy doesn’t shirk from some of the unpleasant truths. Lighter skinned slaves (usually occurring following a rape) feel superior to their dark skinned fellows. (“Me no n*****, me a mulatto!”)

The audiobook was lovely to listen to. Adrian Lester (as her son) reads the first and last chapter and the rest is narrated by Andrea Levy. Quite unusual for an author to read their own book but she is magnificent – and made me wonder if she had done any acting.

A humane and uplifting book - highly recommended.

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