The Long Song, Andrea Levy

| 14 February , 2010 | Reply

Andrea Parks

I love to learn about history but have never been one to delve into a textbook willingly.  What better way to understand the world than through storytelling? The Long Song by Andrea Levy is the richest of stories about a Jamaican woman named July.

I am never sure what to expect at the beginning of a story and always hoping for something interesting.  This was interesting – I particularly enjoyed Andrea Levy\’s refreshing style.  As July explains, nearing the end of her life, she has been trying to tell her son her story but he has been too busy to listen. So her son suggests that she write it down in order to preserve it. As a result, much of the story is relayed in the casual, easy way of an oral storyteller.  July switches between Jamaican dialect to formal English often, creating a meaningful contrast between the two worlds in which she lives.

It is Jamaica in the mid-1800\’s. July is owned by a wealthy English family who run a huge sugar plantation that is maintained by slaves. Many of the events she describes take place during the period when slavery is abolished by England. And though life was perpetually difficult and awful for slaves, this transitional period created some significant upheaval and has some unimaginably horrific results that deeply affected July.  July speaks of many things – the work she did for her mistress and various masters, the events that moved her life forward, a bit about the day-to-day stuff – but most importantly what she loved and what she lost.

Old July frequently interrupts the story with her opinions with comments about the ink she is using, bits about her granddaughters, and how she is running out of paper. This weaves a second story into her narrative about her current relationship with her son, who comes into her life 30 years after the main events of her story.

The Long Song is a compelling perspective about a period of history that is told frankly and with style. While the topic itself is heavy, the story manages to be entertaining and easy. July is a remarkable character whose quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) dignity will stay with me for a long time.

Available now: Hachette RRP$32.99


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