The story of July, a Jamaican slave who witnesses both the atrocities and abolition of slavery
You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed. July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides – far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse. Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. 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 fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.
☁ The above exert from The Long Song offers a good synopsis of what the book is about. And Andrea Levy is in a good position to tell the story, being the child of Caribbean immigrants. (Her parents sailed from Jamaica to England in the late 40s). Andrea was born in London in 1956, and growing up black in what was still a very white country provides her a unique perspective about living in both worlds.
The book’s main character July is a mulatto, the daughter of a Scottish overseer and her slave mother. Her life, and the lives of those around her are fraught with intensity: sexual assault, affairs and unexpected pregnancies. The book follows July’s experiences and reactions to these events, culminating in the Baptist war of 1831 and the uprisings that followed. All the main characters are given equal investment in this story meaning it’s it up to us, the reader, to make up our minds about what is right, wrong or merely survival. The narration style assists in ensuring the reader is heavily involved in the unveiling of the story.
The result is a work of literary merit that is highly moving. It covers a great deal of events and historical detail without too much misery or false hope, and the plot keeps the pages turning.