READ THE WORLD – Jamaica: Augustown by Kei Miller

11 April 1982 in Augustown, Jamaica. Ma Taffy may be blind, but she sees everything. So, when her great-nephew Kaia comes home from school in tears, what she senses sends a deep fear running through her. While they wait for his mama to come home from work, Ma Taffy recalls the story of the flying preacherman and a great thing that did not happen.

Augustown is a story within a story. There’s what’s happening in the present with Ma Taffy and Kaia, her story of the flying preacherman, and an almost omnipresent narrator that’s looking down on the events that are unfolding and can see the past and future. There are also other characters who live in Augstown that come in and out of the story at different times, and it’s as the story progresses that you can see all these connections between them.

Augustown is a story all about the divide in Jamaican society and how people may try and fail to bridge that divide and perhaps better themselves. There’s rich vs poor, white vs black, Babylon vs Rasta. All these differences and divisions come to a head when Kaia comes home crying after his teacher cuts off his dreadlocks. It’s a shocking thing for the young boy and the community as a whole, and soon the people start to get involved.

The writing style is almost poetic at times as it paints a vivid picture of life in Jamaica in the twentieth century. The stark differences between what the poor Augstown looks like and the rich areas of Jamaica that are in the hills and look down upon Augustown look like are clear. Also, the attitudes between the people who live in the two different areas is realised through the few times when people from each of these worlds interact. There’s talk of code-switching, how someone changes their dialect or use of slang depending on who they’re talking to, and of what opportunities are available to different people.

Augustown is a quick read with engaging themes but unfortunately while I did feel sympathy towards many of the characters, I was never fully drawn into their story. How Augustown shows the divisions of class in Jamaica is eye-opening and it shows how one person’s actions can have ramifications they couldn’t have expected.

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