Thursday, June 27, 2013
Review: Gloria By Kerry Young
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition
Publication Date: July 16, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction
Jamaica, 1938. Gloria Campbell is sixteen years old when a single violent act alters the course of her life forever. Taking along her younger sister, she flees their hometown to forge a new life in Kingston. But in a capital city awash with change, a black woman is still treated as a second-class citizen. From a room in a boarding house and a job at a supply store, Gloria finds her way to a house of ill repute on the edge of the city, intrigued by the glamorous, financially independent women within. It is an unlikely place to meet the love of your life, but here she encounters Pao, a Chinatown racketeer and a loyal customer who will become something more. It is also an unlikely place to gain a passion for social justice, but it is one of the house's proprietors who instills in Gloria new ideas about the rights of women and all humankind, eventually propelling her to Cuba, where even greater change is underway, and where Gloria must choose between the life she has made for herself and the one that might be.
Alive with the energy of a country at a crossroads, this is a story of love in many forms, and of Gloria's evolution-from a frightened girl on the run to a woman fully possessed of her own power.
The most appealing, although challenging, aspect of this novel is that it is written in the Jamaican Patois (Patwa or Patwah) dialect throughout. For this reason alone, it saddens me to think many readers will find it too challenging and simply put it aside only to miss out on a truly unique reading experience. However, I have always had a strong fondness for the use of dialect and was instantly reminded of Claude McKay's infamous collections of poems, Songs of Jamaica. Once I read and "heard" the language, it immediately enhanced the ambiance of the story and I felt as though I were transported to Jamaica. This is by no means a sweet,cozy island story however. Gloria is a story of self-discovery, self-empowerment, and the need for equality and social justice. Set against the backdrop of a country still seeking out its own political identity amid poverty and despair, and where a woman of color is only valued for housework, child-rearing, and fulfilling the pleasures of men, Gloria is determined there is more to life than what is offered. She transforms from a frightened young girl into a confident, empowered woman, and her journey is one to be remembered. Kerry Young has certainly proven herself to be a very gifted and talented storyteller among Caribbean writers. Gloria would make for an excellent book club choice with its multitude of discussion topics regarding not only language but also the role and fate of women within this story. Overall, I was swept away by this novel and easily give it FIVE stars. I will certainly be reading more from this talented author in the future.