‘She wondered what kind of world she had brought her daughters into – the tedious cycle of rural Jamaican life. No chance for them to set off upon adventures and see the outside world.’
But sisters Jenny and Hortense Rodney, descendants of the fierce Maroon people, do get to see the world, and Island Songs is their story. Growing up in rural Claremont, working amid the hustle and bustle, lawn parties and ‘houses of joy’ in Trenchtown, the two sisters take a chance and move to England with their husbands, that far-off land of riches, where they settle down to motherhood amongst the jazz cafes and bleak streets of Brixton.
‘Fire-nettle’ Hortense and her husband Cilbert dream of finding prosperity through hard work in England, and eventually being able to return to Jamaica a wealthy family. Whilst Jenny, tied by the strong and complex bonds of sisterhood, follows Hortense in her travels and brings with her Jacob, her husband, who establishes the first black church in south London.
A beautiful evocation of twentieth-century Jamaica, its history and traditions, and equivocal status as an overlooked outpost of the dwindling British Empire, Island Songs is an epic of love, diaspora, and sorely tested family loyalties. Many stories are told, but many more secrets are never revealed.
‘The novels, Island Songs and East of Acre Lane, are two must-reads – they grab your heart, not with pity but wonder that such beauty can come from such a life.’ The Independent
‘Fabulously witty patois dialogue… evocative’ Independent on Sunday
‘A novel brought to life by a wealth of vivid detail and a superb cast of supporting characters. Alex Wheatle has a real talent for understated, convincing dialogue. Particularly striking are the evocations of the ruthless Maroon people, from whom the sisters are descended.’ Big Issue
‘Most intriguing is the complex love-hate relationship between the siblings. With credible characters and a gripping story-line, this is a fitting tribute to a beautiful island and its people.’ New Nation
‘In Island Songs, [Wheatle] proves that he is an enthralling storyteller of remarkable range.’ Jamaica Sunday Observer
‘Captures the experiences of Jamaicans born in the UK against the fascinating lifestyle, values and legacy of the Jamaican culture. Bridges the generation gap that exists among many youngsters of Jamaican background in the United Kingdom. It also seeks to dispel the negative perception of Jamaicans through real life association of the two cultures.’ The Gleaner
‘I dare you not to be mesmerised by the ‘susu’ talk of the church congregation, the daily annoyances of box drink vendors and the street language of Brixton. Wheatle’s description of the simplicity of Jamaican life ‘back in the days’ floats you into the fields of callaloo and sweet potato with the sound of off-key church vocals in the back. It brings a new dimension to the struggles of the people of that period and shows just how much hope they had for the ‘gold streets of Englan’. This novel will be nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up in similar circumstances and a breath of fresh Jamaican air for anyone else. So, sit back and pick up the time-travel book that delivers a real insight into 20th century Jamaica and her offspring.’ The Voice
- Allison & Busby UK & USA
- Au Diable Vauvert France
- WF Howes Audio
Material: UK & French editions (331pp).