Mr Atkinson’s Rum Contract by Richard Atkinson
I’m particularly embarrassed to have chosen to read this for Black History Month, although in my defence I had hoped it might help with my WIP which touches on the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade in Cumbria, where the Atkinson family has its roots. So my gloom lifted a little when the narrative visited the house (which I’m sure I’ve often driven past) or shifted to Newcastle (where I used to live and my debut novel is set). For those who hoped I was softening my stance towards non-fiction, I’m afraid it’s cemented my prejudices: sometimes fiction is truer than fact.
Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole
Her account of her life is as fascinating for what she excludes as much as what she shares with the reader. While clearly proud of her ‘Scotch’ heritage, I got the impression she knew little of her soldier father and her brief marriage is addressed in a single paragraph. Of the ‘many lands’ she visited, we learn most about England and Panama (where she established a hotel with her brother serving men travelling to and from California prospecting for gold) and, of course, Crimea.
Equally fascinating is what we glean about her race and gender identity, although despite a lengthy introduction by Sara Salih in my Penguin Classics edition I never completely got the measure of her. While repeatedly referring to her skills as ‘womanly’ (and it’s refreshing that even two hundred years ago a woman could be tough-minded when necessary) she doesn’t seem to get on with women, and her friends seem exclusively male. If her racial identity seems conflicted – Creole, yellow, British, Jamaican, black, and both the perpetrator and victim of racial slurs – it’s perhaps unsurprising given she came of age at a time when many of her countrymen and women were still enslaved. While she admits to prejudice against America for its continuing slavery, she is fiercely loyal to the British Empire. All in all, an interesting woman in interesting times.
Augustown by Kei Miller
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2016, I found this novel an engrossing and entertaining way of learning about Rastafarian culture and oppression in Jamaica. But don’t ask me to spell out how it all fits together!
The Windrush Betrayal
So now to the promised fiction for some light(er) relief!
Do let me know what gems I've missed!