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

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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

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