In Praise of Love and Children

READ THE WORLD – Guyana: In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy

After false starts in teaching and social work, Melda Hayley finds her mission in fostering the damaged children of the first generation of Black settlers in a deeply racist 1950s Britain. But though Melda finds daily uplift in her work, her inner life starts to come apart. Her brother Arnie has married a white woman and his defection from the family and the distress Melda witnesses in the children she fosters causes her own buried wounds to weep. But though the past drives Melda towards breakdown, she finds strength there too, especially in the memories of the loving, supporting women of the yards.

In Praise of Love and Children is a story about love. Not romantic love, though some secondary characters are in relationships, but familial love. The love Melda does (or doesn’t) feel from certain members of her family are a big part of this story, likewise how she has a huge capacity to love the many children she fosters. Some might be only for a few weeks while others find a home with her for years.

I’m not sure how to write about this without coming across ignorant and/or racist but I’ll give it a go. When Melda moves to London and stays with her older brother Arnie she meets his girlfriend Trudi (who later becomes his wife and mother of his child), a white woman who had escaped to Switzerland after her family was killed in Germany when she was a teenager. Melda has an instant dislike for Trudi and it’s clear it’s because Trudi is a white woman and Melda feels she is turning Arnie into something he is not and distancing him from their family. I found those passages hard to read as Melda has a visceral hatred for Trudi. It took me (a white woman) by surprise and it did make me a little uncomfortable. After thinking about it though, I think it made me uncomfortable more because it surprised me. I hadn’t really seen this hatred in a book like this before. I think it’s because in media – films, books and TV – that’s set in the past, so often the Black characters are shown to be the better people in the face of racism, they turn the other cheek or do their best to ignore it and not interact. In In Praise of Love and Children Melda isn’t passive, she knows her own mind and is unafraid to show hostility towards Trudi, even when at times it seems like Trudi is generally trying to be friendly towards her future sister-in-law.

It’s interesting because the conflict between Melda and Trudi becomes this underlying element throughout the whole book. While it is tied to Melda’s view on white people, it’s also tied to how she sees and feels about her family. Family is very important to her and while she believes that the children must always defer to the parents and they are their family first, with Arnie he starts to see Trudi as his priority rather than his parents and siblings that are either in London or New York.

I’ve read books, and seen a lot of film/TV, set in post-segregation America but I haven’t really experienced as much media about Black Britons post-WWII. Starting out set in the 1950s and spanning nearly two decades, In Praise of Love and Children is a small snapshot into life in Britain for the children of what we now call the Windrush generation. People from former British Empire and Commonwealth countries, especially those in the Caribbean, were encouraged to come to the UK to live and work and make a home here. There’s the little racist comments Melda hears about the few Black children in her class from the white headteacher or other staff, and there’s the mention of the culture shock parents have in bringing up their children without the support of a wider community that they had in their villages back home. There’s a line I really liked, and it can (unfortunately) be applied to people looking for a better life for themselves and their family today: “Immigrant workers went from having a firm identity – of family, village, island or religion – to having only a nominal one: foreigner.”

I ended up really enjoying In Praise of Love and Children. I thought Melda’s capacity for love after growing up being abused by her mother was admirable. There’s flashbacks to her childhood and the care and support she got from the women of the yards near her childhood home, was enough to help her when her mother’s love wasn’t there. She is a principled character and may verge on cutting of her nose to spite her face territory, but she is also caring and just. For a pretty short book (it’s under 150 pages) In Praise of Love and Children manages to pack an emotional punch as Melda tries to discover who she is and make a success of her dream to foster and care for such troubled children. 4/5.

Blackathon/Black History Month TBR

February is Black History Month in USA and Canada (it’s in October here in the UK) and Jesse from Bowties & Books has brought back Blackathon – a month long readathon celebrating books by Black authors and Black creators and businesses on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. There are teams depending what type of books you read – Team Science-Fiction/Fantasy, Team Literary/Contemporary/Non-fiction, and Team Thriller/Horror and different YouTube and Instagram hosts for each team. You can find out more about Blackathon on Twitter and from Jesse’s announcement video.

There are prompts for each Team/genre but the overarching theme of Blackathon is “travellers/traveling”. That can be interpreted in different ways; a character could physically travel to different places, cities or countries, a character could go on a spiritual journey, a character could go on an emotional journey. It’s up to you how you apply or interpret the theme.

While the exact prompts for Blackathon didn’t really inspire me or I didn’t think I currently owned any books that would fit those prompts, I thought the general theme of “travel” was something present in a fair few of the books on my TBR. So, this is a Blackathon-inspired TBR/general Black History Month TBR as I make books by Black authors a priority in February.

In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy
After false starts in teaching and social work, Melda Hayley finds her mission in fostering the damaged children of the first generation of Black settlers in a deeply racist 1950s Britain. But though Melda finds daily uplift in her work, her inner life starts to come apart. Her brother Arnie has married a white woman and his defection from the family and the distress Melda witnesses in the children she fosters causes her own buried wounds to weep. But though the past drives Melda towards breakdown, she finds strength there too, especially in the memories of the loving, supporting women of the yards.

The Ladies Are Upstairs by Merle Collins
From the 1930s to the new century Doux Thibaut negotiates a hard life on the Caribbean island of Paz. As a child there is the shame of poverty and illegitimacy, and there are the hazards of sectarianism in an island divided between Catholic and Protestant, the rigidity of a class and racial system where, if you are Black, your white employer is always right. When Doux is an old lady moving between the homes of her children in Boston and New York, she wonders whether they and her grandchildren really appreciate what her life has taught her.

The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Silá
Ndani leaves her villages to seek a better life in the capital, finding work as a maid for a Portuguese family. The mistress of the house, Dona Deolinda, embarks on a mission to save Ndani’s soul through religious teaching, but the master of the house has less righteous intentions.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland – and he knew he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams.

Do you set your TBR around events like Black History Month? Or what books are you generally hoping to pick up soon?

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Hope Santa Brings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. As Christmas is just a few days away this week it’s all about what books you’d like to receive from Santa – or just generally what books you’d like to come into your life soon.

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Set in 1984, A Spare Life follows twins who are conjoined at the head, their life as they grow up considered freaks by even their family, and how they struggle to decide if they want to be surgically separated from one another.

Running by Natalia Sylvester
I saw Rincey from RinceyReads post about this book on Instagram and that sparked my interest.

Selfie and Other Stories by Nora Nadjarian
I love a short story collection to help me out with my Read the World Project. This one seems to be stories about women, in love, in confusion, in isolation – seems very fitting for 2020.

The Equestrienne by Uršuľa Kovalyk
A coming-of-age story of a teenage girl who lives in a small town in the east of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and finds friendship and confidence by joining a riding school.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
A video from MyNameIsMarines is what brought this book to my attention. Think it’ll be one of those hard-hitting books but a good one.

In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy
This is set in 1950s London and follows a Guyanese woman who, without an extended family support system or an understanding of her new home, finds comfort in her work with troubled children of fellow black settlers

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
This is one that got a lot of hype on Twitter when the character dynamics were likened to Finn and Poe from Star Wars, but the gayness is text rather than subtext. It’s been a long time since I’ve read some proper sci-fi, space adventures.

In the Forests of Freedom: The Fighting Maroons of Dominica by Lennox Honychurch
This is a non-fiction book about who the Maroons, escaped slaves, of the Caribbean island of Dominica challenged the colonial powers in a heroic struggle to create a free and self-sufficient society.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
I’ve heard good things about this book (my pal Ellie from Curiosity Killed the Bookworm even recommended it to me recently), it’s an alternate timeline where women are a lot more involved in the space programme.

The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye
The Radiance of the King is among the earliest major works in Francophone African literature and another book for my Read the World Project. It follows Clarence, a white man, who’s been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa and demands to see the king.

I hope you all have as good a Christmas/break as you can in these unusual times, and you get some great books.