Friday, 28 July 2017

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall
First published in America by Random House in 1959.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Stairs

I registered my copy of this book at Bookcrossing

How I got this book:
Swapped for on the book table at Torquay Indoor Market

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Selina's mother wants to stay in Brooklyn and earn enough money to buy a brownstone row house, but her father dreams only of returning to his island home. Torn between a romantic nostalgia for the past and a driving ambition for the future, Selina also faces the everyday burdens of poverty and racism. Written by and about an African-American woman, this coming-of-age story unfolds during the Depression and World War II. Its setting — a close-knit community of immigrants from Barbados — is drawn from the author's own experience, as are the lilting accents and vivid idioms of the characters' speech. Paule Marshall's 1959 novel was among the first to portray the inner life of a young female African-American, as well as depicting the cross-cultural conflict between West Indians and American blacks. It remains a vibrant, compelling tale of self-discovery.

I loved this novel of a Bajan family struggling to make good for themselves in 1950s Brooklyn, New York. The immigrant experience is a frequent theme in literature, but I think novels seldom evoke their culture and the clash of inter-generational ideas as well as Paule Marshall does in Brown Girl, Brownstones. Her characters are so vibrantly alive and vividly described that I could easily envisage the city through their eyes. Selina's mother, Silla, is now one of my favourite literary heroines - seemingly so strong in the face of everything life throws at her, yet worn down and fragile when alone. Her scenes sparkle with wit and a poignant irony given that we know neither of her American-born daughters will follow the life path she has so painstakingly laid out for them. Selina's wilful rejection of Silla's choices is brilliantly portrayed, especially as the daughter is basically repeating the actions of the mother at that age, yet neither can see the repeating pattern.

Brown Girl, Brownstones takes place over a number of years and I appreciated how we see characters develop and mature. Their outlooks and priorities change and there are even subtle shifts in language from the evocative Bajan dialect of early years to a more conventionally Americanised English. Marshall's portrayal of the tight-knit Bajan community allowed me to understand their cultural cohesion and why these particular people chose to reach only to each other for support. The Bajan Association is a prime example of this. Throughout the novel though we are reminded of the waves of people who relocate themselves to cities such as New York. This particular family's Brownstone house has been witness to many lives before theirs and, as we learn towards the end of the book, many Bajans are already choosing to resettle elsewhere, moving up the affluence ladder if they have been able. Marshall has written a distinctly West Indian novel, but one which also reflects human experience across the globe. It is an excellent, emotional book which I think should be far more famous and widely read than it is.

Etsy Find!
by Claudia G Pearson in
New York, USA

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Paule Marshall / Women's fiction / Books from America

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