Review: Six Stories and an Essay by Andrea Levy

By Yashodhara Trivedi 

 

“When a member of the far-right group of the National Front waved one of their leaflets in my face and started laughing, I felt I owed them some sort of apology. I wanted them to like me. It would be years before I realised I could be angry with them.”

Some stories stay with you for very specific reasons – a clever turn of phrase, a feisty protagonist, a poignant ending. And then there are stories that become favourites for reasons you cannot entirely comprehend, but there is something about them that lingers in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page. Andrea Levy’s latest literary offering, Six Stories and an Essay, belongs to that latter group, as she brings to life the trials and tribulations of Jamaican immigrants negotiating issues of race and identity in a foreign land that hesitates to accept them as equals.

Image: Tinder Press
Image: Tinder Press

Levy’s prose is as dynamic as the wide spectrum of diasporic experiences it seeks to represent – from the tongue-in-cheek narrative of ‘That Polite Way That English People Have’ to the refreshingly unapologetic insight into racial profiling in ‘The Empty Pram’. What elevates her stories beyond the typical retelling of an immigrant experience is the remarkable restraint with which she abstains from according blame, or exacting some form of poetic revenge by condemning those whose attitude towards the ‘other’ is less than desirable. This absence of a natural bias or unequivocal judgement in her stories is especially impressive when considered in the light of their autobiographical elements – for it becomes increasingly evident, even to the most uninitiated reader, that Levy does have a lot to be angry for. The sheer sensitivity with which she recounts incidents of racial tension, not as an attack of one group against another, but as the product of misunderstandings fuelled by a longstanding, human tradition of regarding outsiders with fear and suspicion, makes this book a must-read for anyone interested in the intricacies of inter-racial human interaction. It would be wrong to construe this as some veiled attempt at political correctness, for nowhere does the raw honesty of Levy’s recollections leave room for wilful misrepresentation or a hidden agenda for placation. Even in a story as powerfully unsettling as ‘Deborah’, she refuses to sugar-coat the reality of growing up in the 1960s on a council estate – candidly presenting events just as she remembers them and allowing readers the liberty to deduce their own conclusions.

Levy manages to find humour with impressive ease, even in the most surprising of circumstances and it is this ability which makes the book quite a quick read despite the gravity of the subjects broached. Thoughtful and moving, this collection is a testimony to her dexterity in commanding the readers’ attention, even while discussing people and places that may be far removed from their own reality. Andrea Levy’s literary potential is truly boundless, and I firmly believe that her best work is yet to come.

 

One thought on “Review: Six Stories and an Essay by Andrea Levy

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