BOOK REVIEW: AUGUSTOWN by Kei Miller (2016) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)


There has been a recent boom in literature coming from the Carribean island of Jamaica. First, Marlon James took the literary world by storm when he became the first Jamaican to pick up the 2015 Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings based upon the attempted assasinations of Jamaica’s finest son and world renowned legendary reggae artist, Bob Marley. Now, from the same tradition comes Kei Miller’s Augustown – a novel which, like James’ award winning work, focuses on Jamaica – the island, its people, their traditions along with the history and politics to be found there. 

The novel’s title derives its name from the thought that freedom came to the enslaved people of Jamaica on 1st August, 1838. Hence the name August Town and with it the rising of Alexander Bedward – affectionately known as the “flying preacher man” and regarded as a prophet and pioneer of the rastafarian movement. 

The novel is steeped in history and contains stories based on traditions and myths. The descriptive and poetic language Miller uses is, at times, mesmerising, taking the reader on a spiritual-like journey into the past where the likes of Ma Taffy, Gina and Sister Gilzene share their stories of struggle with colonial powers and the babylonial systems of oppression from which they try to rise up and escape from.

Such is the power emanating from these stories that it becomes hard to put the novel down once you have started it. There are moments of laughter, anger, joy and sadness within the narrative which do much to keep the reader engaged. For these reasons, Augustown is a literary triumph which will ensure that Kei Miller, winner of the 2014 Forward Prize for Poetry for his collection, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, will, like the characters he describes in his novel, be a name to look out for as his stock rises higher and higher.

Kei Miller: Will rise higher and higher

(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip


Behind every great President there is a greater First Lady!


Returning to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia where eight years ago she had told the world why her husband should be the President of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, today, delivered a speech that will arguably go down in history as one of the greatest. The first thing that strikes you about America’s First Lady is her undeniable beauty, poise, decorum and class. Then there is her race and gender – a proud black woman. Then there is her language. When she speaks, one recognises her intelligence as demonstrated in her cultural, social and political astuteness. When she speaks, you listen – for what she has to say often resonates with both our experience and times. This speech begins with Michelle reminding the excited audience of the characteristics which she believed would make her husband (Barack) the right choice for President – “His character, conviction, decency and grace,” she says. Then she remembers how their two daughters (aged 7 and 10 at the time) were “piled into those black SUV’s beside big men holding guns…their little faces pressed to the windows and all I could think was what have we done?” For Michelle, this new experience her family were embarking on could make or brake her daughters. She shares how she remembers the need to teach her daughters to “ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith.” Taking this a step further to include everyone else who has been victim to scrutiny or oppression she encourages: “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, we don’t stoop to their level. Our motto is when they go low, we go high.” Such a powerful motto which resonates well with the experience of our times in consideration of all that’s going on in the world on a social, cultural and political level – from the recent terrorist attacks in France and Germany to the Black Lives Matter campaign where the lives of both young black men and young white police officers have senselessly been claimed in a heightened climate of fear and disillusionment.

Michelle Obama addresses the 2016 Democratic National Convention crowd in Philadelphia

Michelle, who is backing Hillary Clinton to become the first female President of the United States of America when the polls open in November, shared her vision of the type of President she wants to have for her children. “I want a President who takes matters seriously,” she begins. Then in a swipe to President elect Donald Trump’s constant tweeting campaign on Twitter, Michelle continues: “I want a President who understands that the issues they face are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.” Michelle wants a President who is in touch with reality and ordinary people: “We don’t choose fame and fortune for ourselves – we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed.” Then, alluding to the tragedies which came during and as a result of the Black Lives Matter campaign she says: “I want a President who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters.” 

As in stories and life itself, the end is just as or even more important as the beginning. The greatest and most influential speeches are those which weave personal experiences to the symbol of the American Dream; which while demonstrating present truth do not forget about the truths of the past. From slavery to the American Dream, Michelle signs off in a manner which would have the likes of American greats such as Abraham Lincoln, President Kennedy and Civil Rights pioneers, Martin Luther King Jnr and Rosa Parks looking down, beaming with pride and approval: 

That is the story (The American Dream) of this country. The story which has brought me to this stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that when I wake up in the morning in a house that was built by slaves and watch my daughters – two beautiful, intelligent black women playing with their dogs on the White House Lawn, I realise that we should not take for granted that we could have a woman be the President of the United States of America.

The Obama Family

(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip

Watch the full speech below: