Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REVIEW: The Long Song by Andrea Levy

At the behest of her son, an old woman sits down to write the story of her life. That woman is July, a former slave at the Amity Plantation in Jamaica. The product of rape, July lives on the plantation with her mother Kitty working at lesser strenuous jobs in the field as other children did. One day she comes to the notice of Caroline Mortimer, sister of the plantation owner and Caroline decides to bring July to the main house as her servant, renaming her Marguerite as she thinks it sounds more pleasant. July grows up in this environment observing the brutalities committed at the Plantation. The Jamaican slaves revolt and life on the plantation is thrown into chaos.

July and the rest of the slaves are freed but she still feels compelled to stay and serve Caroline Mortimer who teaches her to read and write in order to help her run the plantation. It looks as though things might be different for the now freed slaves when the ideological Robert Goodwin arrives to be overseer. He falls in love with July and marries Caroline Mortimer so that he may carry on with July without sinning (his father who is a preacher told him it is a sin to take advantage of slaves but married men may do as they like). As Robert struggles with the slaves he soon changes throwing the plantation into chaos and deceiving July in the worst way possible.

Told in the straight forward voice of July (in some cases too forward for her son's liking) the story of her life and the injustices of the Amity Plantation pour forward. The slaves here are treated appallingly, the overseers are given free reign to do whatever they will with the slaves (rape, beatings, selling food meant for the slaves so they are close to starving). Even when July graduates to the Great House her life is not easy as she has to put up with whiny, needy, overindulged Miss Caroline. July thinks she's finally found the silver lining in her circumstances with her love for Robert but even that doesn't turn out as expected.

This is a sad tale and a solid chronicle of life as a slave on the Jamaican sugar plantations. I liked the feisty July and her manner of telling the story. Her disagreements with her son about how she should write her story were comical at times. I liked this story but it did not captivate me the way that other stories on similar topics did. It reminded me a bit of the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom which I read last year and loved. I just didn't like this one as much. I think the transition of Robert from the loving man July first meets to the disillusioned and cruel plantation master he becomes could have been more gradual. It seemed like a Jekyll/Hyde type deal to me where one chapter he's loving and admirable and the next he's horrible. I also thought the book would have dealt more with the slave revolt than it did. It was more in the background than I thought it would be.

I think the book was enjoyable enough and I may try more by this author. I just think I may have read too many books in the same vein for it really pull me in (Kitchen House, Someone Knows my Name by Lawrence Hill, The Soul Catcher by Michael C. White etc).

borrowed from the Fruitport Library

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. I went to Jamaica last year and I think the book might bring light to some of the plantations I visited.