Augustown by Kei Miller

Look this isn’t magic realism.  This is not another story about superstitious island people and their primitive beliefs. No. You don’t get off that easy. This is a story about people as real as you are, and as real as I once was before I  became a bodiless thing floating up here in the sky. You may as well stop to consider a more urgent question; not whether you believe in this story or not, but whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in..

I’m tempted to leave this review at that.  Mr. Miller’s narrator does say it better than I can. But that would be more than a bit coy.

The kind of people you have never taken the time to believe in. The kind of people I have never taken the time to believe in.

That’s a fair accusation, I think. For most of us.

The people of Augustown, Jamaica are speaking up these days.  There has been something of a renaissance in fiction set far from the islands famed resorts:  A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James which I admit I did not finish; Mr. Loverman by Bernadine Everisto which I loved.

Add to this growing body of work, Kei Miller’s tale of one day in Augustown, the day when a teacher in the local school reached his limits and forcefully cut the dreadlocks off of a Rastafarian child’s head, when the boy’s mother led a march of angry townspeople on the school and confronted the teacher, and a preacherman became so full of spirit that he began to float up into the sky.

Who are we to say what is true about people we do not know?

There are books, works of fiction, that take us so far into the lives of other people that we feel we can rightly say we begin to know them.  Classic portraits of places in time like George Eliot’s Middlemarch or John Steinbeck’s Canterbury Row.  Kei Miller’s Augustown works well on this level.  The reader comes to know the inhabitants of Augustown, their lives and histories.

While we may not end up believing a person can float up to the sky, we may get a step closer to believing in the people who do, like the people of Augustown.

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