Award-winning writer Caryl Phillips presents a beautiful, heart-breaking novel of the life of Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso SeaIn the heart of London's Bloomsbury, Gwendolen - not yet truly famous as the writer `Jean Rhys' - is presented with the opportunity she has been waiting for.
A voice speaking out of a distant past, describes the consequences of his desperation: his daughter and two sons are condemned to the hold of an English slave ship bound for America in 1753. Here are the stories of these children: Nash, Martha, and Travis. Yet as the narrative unfolds, we come to understand that although they are his children, they are also all of slavery's children. Nash, returning to Africa in the 1830's a Christian-educated adult, a missionary to the new territory of Liberia, slowly becoming a part of the world his 'masters' intended him to convert...Martha, her own daughter and husband sold away from her, settling in the American wild west of the late nineteenth century, freeing herself from slavery but never from the weight of "such misery in one life"...Travis, an American GI stationed in a small Yorkshire village during the Second World War, finding an acceptance in England that he doesn't know at home and that he may not be able to promise his half-English son...
These brilliantly resonant stories-along with the slave ship captain's journal and the lamentations of the children's father-become a "many-tongued chorus of common memory" so vivid and powerful that it bridges the gaps between continents and centuries, inextricably linking the many generations of the African diaspora, one to the other.
Francis Barber, 'given' to the great eighteenth-century writer Samuel Johnson, afforded an unusual depth of freedom, which, after Johnson's death, would help hasten his wretched demise....
Randolph Turpin, Britain's first black world champion boxer, who made history in 1951 by defeating Sugar Ray Robinson, and who ended his life in debt and despair...
David Oluwale, a Nigerian stowaway who arrived in Leeds in 1949, the events of whose life and death would question the reality of English justice, and serve as a wake-up call for the entire nation.
Each of these men's stories is told in a different, perfectly realized voice. Each illuminates the complexity and drama that lie behind the tragedy of their lives. And each explores the themes at the heart of Caryl Phillips' work - belonging, identity, and race.
What do we mean by 'English'? How does that image square with reality? How does our island look from abroad, and what aspects of our experience do we share with, for example, America - a nation built by outsiders and the huddled masses?
Taking as its starting point a moving recollection of growing up in Leeds during the 1970s, Colour Me English broadens into a reflective, entertaining and challenging collection of essays and other non-fiction writing which ranges from the literary to the cultural and autobiographical.
Elsewhere, Caryl Phillips goes on to describe the experience of living and working in America, and travels in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Belgium and France and beyond. He considers the lives and works of many figures including Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Billie Holiday and Luther Vandross, and how their experiences are refracted through the prisms of writing, music and cinema.
But Colour Me English always circles back to questions of identity and belonging, to the nature of tribal belonging and of its reverse, exclusion.
A novel about personal crisis and momentous social conflict, Caryl Phillips sixth novel tells the inextricably linked stories of a young Jewish woman growing up in mid-twentieth-century Germany, and an African general hired by the Doge to command his armies in sixteenth-century Venice. At the heart of these stories is Europe's age-old obsession with race, with similarity and difference, with blood. This is a novel about how we define ourselves and consequently, it is about the most dangerous and nightmarish aspects of our identity.
Cambridge is a powerful and haunting novel set in that uneasy time between the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of the slaves. It is the story of Emily Cartwright, a young woman sent from England to visit her father's West Indian plantation, and Cambridge, a plantation slave, educated and Christianised by his first master in England and now struggling to maintain his dignity.
The streets of modern-day London are hectic, multicultural, and difficult to read if you are a white-collar, middle-aged man. Keith is a social worker who, following a brief affair with a colleague, finds himself living alone in a flat a few streets away from his wife, Annabelle, and his teenage son. His domestic problems, allied with growing tensions at work, profoundly undermine his peace of mind. Keith attempts to take refuge in a long-cherished writing project and turns his attention to the plight of his ageing father, but for the first time in his life he feels extremely vulnerable as a black man in English society.
Annabelle met Keith twenty-five years ago at university, and she watches the man she married - against the wishes of her English parents - as he appears to be losing his grip on his life. However, after three years of estrangement, she realises that despite her disappointment with her former husband, the pair of them have no choice but to close ranks and protect their son, who seems to have become increasingly involved with street gangs and a world that is entirely alien to them.
A brilliant and penetrating story of contemporary Britain, IN THE FALLING SNOW is Caryl Phillips' finest novel yet.
'The funniest man I ever saw, and the saddest man I ever knew.' This is how W.C. Fields described Bert Williams, the highest-paid entertainer in America in his heyday and someone who counted the King of England and Buster Keaton among his fans.
Born in the Bahamas, he moved to California with his family. Too poor to attend Stanford University, he took to life on the stage with his friend George Walker. Together they played lumber camps and mining towns until they eventually made the agonising decision to 'play the coon'. Off-stage, Williams was a tall, light-skinned man with marked poise and dignity; on-stage he now became a shuffling, inept 'nigger' who wore blackface make-up. As the new century dawned they were headlining on Broadway. But the mask was beginning to overwhelm Williams and he sank into bouts of melancholia and heavy drinking, unable to escape the blackface his public demanded.
Dancing in the Dark is an outstanding novel as much about the tragedy of race and identity, and the perils of reinvention, as it is about the life of one remarkable man
The Final Passage is Caryl Phillips's first novel and tells the story of Leila, a nineteen-year-old woman living on a small Caribbean island in the 1950s. Her Her subsequent passage to England brings her face to face with the consequences of the decisions she has made to determine her life on her own terms.
In Africa, a man recounts his days within the grinding machinery of the slave trade. Though spared manacles and a hellish ocean crossing by assisting in the degrading business, he is forced finallty to confront an inescapable, vicious paradox - in the eyes of both his masters and his own people he is a pariah.
In America, Rudi Williams serves life imprisonment in a Southern jail, brutalised by his guards and isolated from his fellow inmates. Through his letters he writes home to explain himself, and to educate his family in the radical politics of the emerging Black Movement, we come to know a young man whose refusal to bow to the system not only upholds the remnants of his dignity but also seals his fate.
In Europe, where the wounds of war are still open, a woman finds that she cannot, after all, to escape the ghetto. For in England, as formerly in Poland, the world outside is hostile , while inside, in her heart, her life is one of stifling fear and dreadful seclusion.
In The Atlantic Sound Caryl Phillips explores the complex notion of what constitutes 'home'. Seen through the historical prism of the Atlantic Slave trade, he undertakes a personal quest to come to terms with the dislocation and discontinuities that a diasporan history engenders in the soul of an individual.Philips journeys from the Caribbean to Britain by banana boat, repeating a journey he made to England as a child in the 1950s. He then visits three pivotal cities: Liverpool, developed on the back of the slave trade, Elmina, on the west coast of Ghana, site of the most important slave fort in Africa; and Charleston in the American South, celebrated as the city where the Civil War began - not for being the city where fully one-third of African-Americans were landed and sold into bondage. Finally, Phillips journeys to Israel where he encounters a community of two thousand African-Americans, whose thirty-year sojourn in the Negev deserts leaves him once again contemplating the modern condition of diasporan displacement.
A New World Order ranges widely across the Atlantic World that Caryl Phillips has charted in his award winning novels and non-fiction during the course of the past twenty years. He begins this collection by establishing his belief that there is a 'new world order' of cultural plurality, one which is being promoted by the increasingly central role of the migrant and the refugee in the modern world. He goes on to reflect on the work of such seminal figures as Derek Walcott, V. S. Naipaul, J. M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, Steven Spielberg, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Marvin Gaye. Phillips writes about the moment when St Kitts, the small island of his birth, became independent and talks about the role and responsibility of being a writer born into a postcolonial world who lives on both sides of the Atlantic. He then turns the spotlight on Britain speculating about his parents' migration in the late fifties, the continued legacy of racism, his own helpless loyalty to Leeds United, and his anxieties at feeling as though he both of, and not of, Britain.
The English village is a place where people come to lick their wounds. Dorothy has walked away from a bad thirty-year marriage, an affair gone sour and a dangerous obsession. Between her visits to the doctor and the music lessons she gives to bored teenagers, she is trying to rebuild a life. It's not immediately clear why her neighbour, Solomon, is living in the village, but his African origin suggests a complex history that is at odds with his dull routine of washing the car and making short trips to the supermarket. Though all he has in common with the English is a shared language, it soon becomes clear that Solomon hopes that his new country will provide him with a safe haven. Gradually they establish a form of comfort in each other's presence that alleviates the isolation they both feel.
From the British-West Indian novelist who is rapidly emerging as the bard of the African diaspora comes a haunting work about “the final passage”--the exodus of black West Indians from their impoverished islands to the uncertain opportunities of England. In her village of St. Patrick’s, Leila Preston has no prospects, a young son, and a husband, Michael, who seems to prefer the company of his mistress. So when her ailing mother travels to England for medical care, Leila decides to follow her.
As Caryl Phillips follows the Prestons’ outward voyage--and their bewildered attempt to find a home in a country whose rooming houses post signs announcing “No vacancies for coloureds”--he produces a tragicomic portrait of hope and dislocation. The Final Passage is a novel rich in language, acute in its grasp of character, and unforgettable in its vision of the colonial legacy.
“Like Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, Phillips writes of times so heady and chaotic and of characters so compelling that time moves as if guided by the moon and dreams.”--Los Angeles Times Book Review
In this richly descriptive and haunting narrative, Caryl Phillips chronicles a journey through modern-day Europe, his quest guided by a moral compass rather than a map. Seeking personal definition within the parameters of growing up black in Europe, he discovers that the natural loneliness and confusion inherent in long jorneys collides with the bigotry of the "European Tribe"-a global community of whites caught up in an unyielding, Eurocentric history.
Phillips deftly illustrates the scenes and characters he encounters, from Casablanca and Costa del Sol to Venice, Amsterdam, Oslo, and Moscow. He ultimately discovers that "Europe is blinded by her past, and does not understand the high price of her churches, art galleries, and history as the prison from which Europeans speak."
In the afterword to the Vintage edition, Phillips revisits the Europe he knew as a young man and offers fresh observations.