I have joined Brown Girl’s Reading Challenge and I just finished reading this very delightfully wicked book by Jamaican emigre, Claude McKay. It’s the story of life in the Island of Jamaica at the turn of the century, in Banana Bottom to be exact. Just how does life flow in the beautiful village of Banana Bottom? Well, in this very consciously color caste paradise, people are very constricted to their expected “class” levels–the white colonizers on top, the mixed race light skinned folks in the plum civil service positions are next, the brown skinned upper level peasants next in line and the East Indian emigres and the lower class black poor peasants wrangling at the bottom of the totem pole. The Chinese emigres fit somewhere in the middle of it all. This is the expected flow of things and of life, and is closely followed– except when it’s not!
There’s our beautiful celebrated black girl of the island, Bita Plant, who has returned back home after having been sent to the Motherland of England to be reared in the finer things which are unavailable in Banana Bottom–an education in literature and the arts and etiquette, befitting a young British lady. That Bita was opportune to get this education speaks to the pious generosity of the Reverends Malcolm and Priscilla Craig, missionaries from the Mother Country who have sacrificed themselves to be amongst the dark natives, teaching and preaching God’s Word, doing their best to convert the folks from their naturally backsliding, double minded and pagan ways.
Jordan Plant, Bita’s father, was more than happy that especially after the terrible thing that happened to his daughter, she now had the opportunity to get a high level education, thanks to the great goodness of the saints Mr. and Mrs. Craig, and of course he took advantage, and sent Bita away for seven years to learn the finer things.
Now that Bita is back home, how will she readjust to the slow, natural pace of Banana Bottom–to the lilting Negro dialect, to the ways of her jamaican people, to the islanders general ignorance of the “finer things” such as the Pensees and other treasures of literature?
This book by Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay is a emotional rollercoaster of wicked hilarity! I thoroughly enjoyed his wit and ability to show the inner workings and desires of the human soul. From the pious Reverends Malcolm and Priscilla Craig, to Bita’s father and mother and aunt, from the village gossip, who had the uncanny ability to know a girl was pregnant before she did herself, to Crazy Bow, the mentally unstable pied piper, from Hopping Dick the broke dandy, the Obeah Man, who overcharged the villagers for his “readings”, to Squire Gensir, the white man who denounced his connections to the Mother Land to live amongst the natives and absorb their dark mysteries. And for all who just weren’t able to fit in their place or who just weren’t able, period,– there was always the purgatory of being banished to Panama to work on the canal! This book is full and vital with the rhythms of the emotional lives of turn of the century Jamaica!
Claude’s ability to capture the deep emotional needs as well as the sublimely ridiculous and juxtapose them, had me laughing in shock one second then dropping my jaw the next! I had to set the book down a few times just to think and laugh at what he had written! He’s gifted in seeing through his characters’ and into their hearts all the way to the core and beyond!
Claude McKay, a great writer of the Harlem Renaissance who wasn’t properly recognized in his lifetime.