Summary and book reviews of Augustown by Kei Miller

Augustown

by Kei Miller

Augustown by Kei Miller X
Augustown by Kei Miller
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

In the wake of Marlon James's Man Booker Prize–winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, Augustown - set in the backlands of Jamaica - is a magical and haunting novel of one woman's struggle to rise above the brutal vicissitudes of history, race, class, collective memory, violence, and myth.

Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything. So when her great-nephew Kaia comes home from school in tears, what she senses sends a deep fear running through her. While they wait for his mama to come home from work, Ma Taffy recalls the story of the flying preacherman and a great thing that did not happen. A poor suburban sprawl in the Jamaican heartland, Augustown is a place where many things that should happen don't, and plenty of things that shouldn't happen do. For the story of Kaia leads back to another momentous day in Jamaican history, the birth of the Rastafari and the desire for a better life.

Excerpt
Augustown

First you must imagine the sky, blue and cloudless if that helps, or else the luminously black spread of night. Next—and this is the important bit—you must imagine yourself inside it. Inside the sky, floating beside me. Below us, the green and blue disc of the earth.

Now focus. 17° 59' 0" North, 76° 44' 0" West. Down there is the Caribbean, though not the bits you might have seen in a pretty little brochure. We are beyond the aquamarine waters, with their slow manatees and graceful sea turtles, and beyond the beaches littered with sweet almonds. We have gone inland. Down there is a dismal little valley on a dismal little island. Notice the hills, how one of them carries on its face a scar—a section where bulldozers and tractors have sunk their rusty talons into its cheeks, scraped away the brush and the trees and left behind a white crater of marl. The eyesore can be seen from ten or more miles away. To the people who live in this valley, it ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How is Augustown (and the entirety of Jamaica) not only the setting but also a character in this novel?
  2. In The New Yorker review, Laura Miller writes: "Like Jane Austen's Emma, Augustown is a village novel, and, even if (unlike Emma) it wears its politics on its sleeve, it exemplifies the belief that everything you want to know about human beings can be found in an overlooked, out-of-the-way little community, as long you pay it sufficient attention." Do you agree with this comparison? How does Augustown include "everything you want to know about human beings?"
  3. Describe the secondary characters of Southpaw and Clarky. How are their stories and presence crucial to the novel?
  4. Discuss the idea of officially recorded ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Augustown is essentially a collection of the oral and written stories that define a community. That structure is both a positive and a negative: While it introduces a diversity of voices and allows for the interweaving of bits of history and etymology, it can also make the book seem more like a set of disparate tales than a connected storyline, even though Miller keeps circling back to April 11, 1982.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (752 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The Jamaican novelist and poet Miller (The Last Warner Woman) presents a rueful portrait of the enduring struggle between those who reject an impoverished life on his native island and the forces that hold them in check, what the rastafari call Babylon.

Booklist
Starred Review. Augustown is a gorgeously plotted,sharply convincing, achingly urgent novel deserving widespread attention.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Highly recommended, and not just for lovers of African and Caribbean folklore. This book will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in fiction that's grounded in community.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Miller captures the ways community, faith, and class create a variety of cultural microclimates.

The Guardian (UK)
Miller's writing has a cool immediacy [that] gives more than a nod to García Márquez… A vivid modern fable, richly nuanced and empathetic.

The Observer (UK)
The language is as clear as spring water, the characters are vividly drawn.

The Sunday TImes (UK)
Miller's storytelling is superb, its power coming from the seamless melding of the magical and the everyday that gives his novel a significant fabular quality.

Author Blurb Marlon James, author of Man Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings
A deceptive spellbinder, a metafiction so disguised as old-time storytelling that you can almost hear the crackle of home fires as it starts. But then it gets you with twists and turns, it seduces and shocks you even as it wrestles with the very nature of storytelling itself. It's the story of women haunted by women, and of the dangers of both keeping secrets and saying too much.

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Beyond the Book

Rastafarianism and Dreadlocks

In the acknowledgments in Augustown, Kei Miller reveals that the novel was inspired by a story told to him by fellow poet Ishion Hutchinson, who had his dreadlocks cut off by a teacher when he was a young boy in Jamaica. Wearing dreadlocks and the ritual smoking of marijuana are two well-known practices in Rastafarianism, an Abrahamic religion that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s in response to colonialism. It is a monotheistic faith based on a literal interpretation of the Bible and strict devotion to God, known as "Jah" (pronounced Yah, short for Yahweh).

Bob Marley helped spread Rastafarianism around the world The religion is also inspired by African history with Haile Selassie recognized as God incarnate on earth, and Africa is seen as a Promised Land for resettlement. There is some ...

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