This is a story about discovering one’s roots. As simple as this.
Faith’s parents came from Jamaica on a banana boat. This is all she knows about her parent’s life in Jamaica and it is what her friends at school tell her. And it never mattered. At the degree show she gets a job in television.
“Your work has an ethnicity which shines through,” she told me. “A sort of African or South American feel which is obviously part of you. Don’t you find that exciting, Faith?” As I was born and bred in Haringley I could only suppose that I had some sort of collective unconscious that was coming through from my slave ancestry.
Faith has her new job, moves out and lives with friends and in my opinion, this first part of the book is a little too long. It outlines her family values, her parents’ views on her life, but is dragged out. There are some key scenes in which she is aware of her family’s heritage simply through the colour of her skin, and they are the most powerful in the book.
Suddenly, as I looked up at this black poet I became aware that the poet and me were the only black people in the room. I looked around again – it was now a roon full of white people.
I became nervous waiting for the poet to start. I was thinking, “Please be good, please.” The poet became my dad, my brother, he was the unknown black faces in our photo album, he was the old man on the bus who called me sister, the man in the bank with the strong Trinidadian accent who could not make himself understood. He was every black man – ever.
Eventually, Faith makes her way to Jamaica. Her parents have decided to maybe move back, now that the children are grown up, and Faith – having never seen Jamaica as home – doesn’t understand. Her parents push her to visit for a couple of weeks to get to know the country and her family. She spends this time with her aunt, and does indeed find out about her relatives, her family’s history and her own history. None of it is earth moving, but it is a part of her she never knew and never craved to find out about, but when she does, it opens up a new world for her.
“Here?!” I shouted at Coral. “This is where you grew up? This is where Mum grew up . . .?”
This was the land bought with Panama Canal wages. Where women with cotters on their heads sold cocoa pods for chocolate. And where chickens flew up into the trees when Nathaniel and William rolled in the dirt. This was the land with a house that had three steps up to a veranda.
This was where my mum grew up and kept a goat called Columbine – on this land! It was so far from Crouch End clock tower, Dunn’s bakery and the W3 bus.
Fruit of the lemon, by Andrea Levy
First published 1999