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Reviews of If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

If I Survive You

by Jonathan Escoffery

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery X
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2022, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2023, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

A major debut, blazing with style and heart, that follows a Jamaican family striving for more in Miami, and introduces a generational storyteller.

In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes on through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what their younger son, Trelawny, calls "the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive."

Masterfully constructed with heart and humor, the linked stories in Jonathan Escoffery's If I Survive You center on Trelawny as he struggles to carve out a place for himself amid financial disaster, racism, and flat-out bad luck. After a fight with Topper―himself reckoning with his failures as a parent and his longing for Jamaica―Trelawny claws his way out of homelessness through a series of odd, often hilarious jobs. Meanwhile, his brother, Delano, attempts a disastrous cash grab to get his kids back, and his cousin, Cukie, looks for a father who doesn't want to be found. As each character searches for a foothold, they never forget the profound danger of climbing without a safety net.

Pulsing with vibrant lyricism and inimitable style, sly commentary and contagious laughter, Escoffery's debut unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in a world at the mercy of capitalism and whiteness. With If I Survive You, Escoffery announces himself as a prodigious storyteller in a class of his own, a chronicler of American life at its most gruesome and hopeful.

IN FLUX


It begins with What are you? hollered from the perimeter of your front yard when you're nine—younger, probably. You'll be asked again throughout junior high and high school, then out in the world, in strip clubs, in food courts, over the phone, and at various menial jobs. The askers are expectant. They demand immediate gratification. Their question lifts you slightly off your preadolescent toes, tilting you, not just because you don't understand it, but because even if you did understand this question, you wouldn't yet have an answer.

Perhaps it starts with What language is your mother speaking? This might be the genesis, not because it comes first, but because at least on this occasion you have some context for the question when it arrives.

You immediately resent this question.

"Why's your mother talk so funny?" your neighbor insists.

Your mother calls to you from the front porch, has called from this perch overlooking the sloping yard since you were allowed to join the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The undercurrent in Escoffery's collection of linked stories is the idea that belonging and attachment begin not at conception but at the place of birth, and that both can be toxic. Are you Jamaican if you were born in America? Is Jamaica in your soul? Or have you been so transplanted into American culture that you are just a Caribbean tourist? A thing of beauty is Escoffery's crisp prose, particularly as he describes the ramshackle Florida house Trelawny grew up in, ruined by Hurricane Andrew. I was struck by how for a person of Trelawny's age, a millennial coming into his own, he lacks infatuation. With anything. Himself. The world. Women. America. Immigrants and their children often see the world through different lenses. One group is hustling to fit in. But in an experience that is just as complex, the other wants the accouterments that come with being happy. Embedded in all of it is a lesson about culture...continued

Full Review (1044 words)

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(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
A blazing success...A profoundly authentic vision of family dynamics and racism in America...These eight stories are completely immersive, humorous yet heartbreaking...Escoffery brings an imaginative, fresh voice to his deep exploration of what it means to be a man, son, brother, father and nonwhite immigrant in America.

Buzzfeed
One of the most refreshing fiction debuts I've read in years...With effortlessly transporting language and characters that are unforgettable in their singularity, this book charmed its way into my heart, where it will stay for a long time.

NPR
Not since Moby Dick has the all-American ethos of 'sink or swim' on your own been dramatized to such devastating effect. If I Survive You is an extraordinary debut collection, an intensively granular, yet panoramic depiction of what it's like to try to make it — or not — in this kaleidoscopic madhouse of a country.

Oprah Daily
Superb...If I Survive You stands out, and not only for its characters' journeys and tender, searching themes; the collection is also a master class in technique.

New York Times
Given Escoffery's skill in making me care for these characters, I wished at times that I was caught more forcefully in a current of narrative momentum with them, and some episodes...struck me as less than convincing. But the author is, throughout, a gifted, sure-footed storyteller, with a command of evocative language and perfectly chosen details...Perhaps most important, he wields a disarming, irreverent sense of humor.

Booklist (starred review)
Escoffery's debut of interconnected short stories confirms his already prize-winning status...The writing and characters are nuanced, with moments of brevity and humor but much more pain and trauma. Trelawny is a wonder, constantly trying to improve himself and yet battered again and again by his own actions or more likely, those outside his control, just like the ever present Miami hurricanes.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A sharp and inventive debut...[Escoffery's] writing is clever, commanding, and flexible...A fine debut that looks at the complexities of cultural identity with humor, savvy, and a rich sense of place.

Library Journal (starred review)
This compelling set of interrelated short stories...[offer] unique insight into issues of race and belonging...A revelatory work, full of a young man's questioning and told in a distinctive voice, this contemplation of identity, culture, and race in the United States today is highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Escoffery's vibrant and varied debut, a linked collection, chronicles the turbulent fate of a Jamaican American family in Miami...This charged work keeps a tight hold on the reader.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
If I Survive You is a collection of connected short stories that reads like a novel, that reads like real life, that reads like fiction written at the highest level. This is a compelling hurricane of a book that sweeps the past, present and future together into one inextricable knot. This is where Jonathan Escoffery's career begins. There are no limits to where he will go.

Author Blurb Marlon James, author of Moon Witch, Spider King
Kaleidoscopic, urgent, hilarious, revelatory and like nothing you've read before. These are the stories that we never believed could be told, until Jonathan Escoffery told them.

Author Blurb Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
It's truly a feat that a book of short stories tackling such big stuff―family, love, violence, race―could be so damn funny. Jonathan Escoffery is a writer only just getting started, and his first book is a welcome reminder of what fiction can do.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Rise of Vehicular Homelessness in the U.S.

RVs and cars in store parking lot In 2018, in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood, a woman named Sabrina Tate died inside her RV. She was almost 28 years old. A chronic drug user, Sabrina may have been killed by an infection. Two men living in the same vehicular lot, what was considered a safe space, had died there earlier in the year. Sabrina's parents, who had tried to help her overcome her heroin addiction, entered the RV after her death. They were hit with the sight of flies and rotted food in a disheveled living space — conditions of which they were previously unaware. "This is not a place anyone should want their daughter or son," Sabrina's father said. "Although it was called a safe lot or a safe zone, it was another place to put people so they are out of the way."...

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