It feels like ages since I’ve written a review; somehow life goes by without my sitting down and writing, although I have read books along with way (some of which were so irrelevant that I can’t even remember what they were).
But The Long Song was not one of the forgettable ones. It has stayed in my mind for a number of reasons – the beauty of the writing, the uniqueness of the main character, the horrific details of the story.
Plot-wise, it tells the story of a girl, July, born into slavery in Jamaica in the early nineteenth century who lives through slave uprising and the subsequent abolition of slavery. July was born in a sugar cane field on a plantation called Amity while her mother, Kitty, worked in the fields. July is the daughter of the white owner of the farm, who had raped Kitty’s mother (but had probably forgotten about it).
Caroline, his new wife freshly out from England, comes upon July when she is about seven, decides she’s adorable and would like to have her. July is simply taken from her mother. There is no question about the ethics of such a move, or the pain that Kitty might go through. July is taken and given to Caroline, who renames her Marguerite and makes July her lady’s maid. And so the story goes on, until July is freed from slavery and her estranged son finds her and looks after her.
It is a gruelling read inasmuch that the treatment of the slaves is so appalling that I sometimes had to skip a few paragraphs to save myself having to read about a punishment. Slaves were treated worse than animals; they were just not seen as being human. The pain and degradation they went through, the suffering – I am tempted to say it’s indescribable, yet it is described so well by the narrator in this book.
But it is the voice of the narrator that kept me reading. July is an incredible story-teller who writes as though she were talking to us, in her own slave patois. She says,”You do not know me yet, but I am the narrator of this work.”
Her son is a publisher and he has encouraged her to write down her story. She writes: “All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a novel they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what a fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.”
And so I read it and loved it and think others should read it too. It’s not just a fuss-fuss.