Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
July is the child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica. When the master's sister, Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, meets her, she decides to move her into the great house and rename her “Marguerite.” Resourceful and mischievous, July soon becomes indispensable to her mistress and grows up in the house as her personal servant. Together they live through the bloody Baptist war, followed by the violent and chaotic end of slavery. When Caroline's brother dies, Caroline must run the plantation herself, but it proves too much for her so she teaches July to read and write so that she can help her mistress run the business, July remains bound to the plantation despite her “freedom," but the other slaves decide they are more interested in building their own livelihoods than contributing to the success of the plantation. When a new overseer is hired, his beliefs in the value of the Negro along with his strong Christian values cause a crisis on the plantation -- and a dramatic change in the lives of both July and her mistress.
July narrates this story when she is an old woman at the request of her son. As she tells the story of the slave named July, she does so in the third person and her narration may or may not be the truthful story of her life. Sometimes when she bends the truth, her son calls her on it and then she is persuaded to give an honest account of events. In fact, her son occasionally enters the narration to tell his story when hers lacks perspective. This "story within a story" is a large part of this novel's success. Whether July's story is honestly told or not doesn't matter; she is an unforgettable character who lived through a hard time in Jamaica's history. She was strong and cunning and lonely -- and did some things that she may have regretted later, but choices have consequences that can't be foreseen ahead of time. July is not an easy character to like, but I still respected and admired her and appreciated her story and her storytelling efforts. She is a person I would like to get to know further, if she would let me, because she does not feel sorry for herself and enjoys the small pleasures that come to her.
Other books by this author:
Small Island, 2004
Fruit of the Lemon, 1999
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