cover image Augustown


Kei Miller. Pantheon, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-87161-4

The Jamaican novelist and poet Miller (The Last Warner Woman) presents a rueful portrait of the enduring struggle between those who reject an impoverished life on his native island and the forces that hold them in check, what the rastafari call Babylon. The year is 1982, and a teacher cuts the dreadlocks off a child named Kaia because he looks “like some dirty little African.” Ma Taffy, Kaia’s aunt, comforts him with the story of Bedward, an Augustown preacher and forerunner of the rastafari. Sixty years earlier, Bedward’s miraculous attempt “‘to rise up into de skies like Elijah’” was halted by the “Babylon boys” pulling him down “with a long hooker stick.” Like Bedward, Kaia’s mother believes she might escape: the principal of the school has been tutoring her, and after the local college accepts her application, “a certain lightness of being” takes her over, “as if she could close her eyes right now and begin to rise.” After seeing Kaia’s bald head, though, she is instead forced into a confrontation with Babylon. In the end, there is no avoiding “the stone” Ma Taffy describes the poor people of Augustown being born with, “the one that always stop we from rising.” The flashback is telling of Miller’s talent for infusing his lyrical descriptions of the island’s present with the weight of its history. (May)