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Augustown [PDF / EPUB] Augustown From the winner of the Forward Prize Augustown is a magical and haunting novel set in the underbelly of Jamaica Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything So when her great nephew Kaia comes home f From the winner of the Forward Prize Augustown is a magical and haunting novel set in the underbelly of Jamaica Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything So when her great nephew Kaia comes home from school in tears what she senses sends a deep fear running through her While they wait for his mama to come home from work Ma Taffy recalls the story of the flying preacherman and a great thing that did not happen A poor suburban sprawl in the Jamaican heartland Augustown is a place where many things that should happen don’t and plenty of things that shouldn’t happen do For the story of Kaia leads back to another momentous day in Jamaican history the birth of the Rastafari and the desire for a better life.

10 thoughts on “Augustown

  1. says:

    There is very little doubt in my mind that Augustown is brilliant  It is such a simple tale and yet so complex in the moods and emotions evoked  He showcases that what happens the event is not the story  What happens is only the face or the cover  The story the reverberations the impact the undercurrents the culture the resentment the simmering anger the privilege the ineuities; all of these things and are percolating in communities  Flowing growing changing  It's all fluid  Miller ostensibly a poet cum novelist brings an artistic bright light on what in less skilled hands would be pedestrian and heavy handed  Miller shows and doesn't tell in a beautiful poetic light This is one of those books that should be read than once to capture the depth of meaning  Unfortunately I've only read the book once so it is certain that I have missed much than I have captured in this review  Ma Taffy the blindgrizzled neighborhood grandmother has a bad premonition that something big and bad is about to happen and so the story begins to unfold  Miller takes us through some familial tales to explain who Ma Taffy is and what she means to the community and the events about to ensue  No character is too small  Each person represents a part of the community as a whole from the small time thug hiding his guns under Ma Taffy's home to the school principal who sees herself is an integral part of the Augustown community but lives in the hills among the wealthy elements of society This is a story where everyone is connected in threads both loose and strong in ways that they don't necessarily know or understand  Even this is part of the tale People don't always know the various ways in which they are connectedview spoilerThe catalyst is that a teacher cuts a little boy's Kaia hair  The real story is what follows The little boy is Rastafarian so the act of cutting his hair brims with so much meaning The act brings with it implicit dismissiveness disrespect entitlement the politics of skin color resentment and a whole lot of other things The book goes into detail regarding why the teacher did it and what went on in his general make up that allowed him to think this would be acceptable What goes on in the culture that helped him develop his attitudes The fact that the teacher was dark skinned and educated worked in crossed purposes because he felt both entitled by his education and yet felt tremendous self loathing because of his skin color and the skin color of the boy who is half white The act of cutting the hair had major reverberations throughout the community with major religious undertones associated with hair as well as the attempted subjugation of the boy simply because he was Rasta and lived in poverty The act dripped with disrespect for the boy his parents his religion etc Kaia's roots also have importance He was born out of wedlock to a very smart promising young girl Her pregnancy ended her opportunities at higher education and a better life Kaia was born out of love between her and a young white man who happened to be the son of the principal at his school The principal is a liberal minded white lady who doesn't know that she has a grandson Backgrounds are filled in to the reader not the characters drama ensues and when Kaia's mother finds out what has been done she stabs the teacher in his eye with scissors Police track her down and kill her with a detachment that is horrifying The teacher lives to become the crazy one eyed beggar on the streets This is the bad premonition that Ma Taffy has at the beginning of the book hide spoiler

  2. says:

    What is Augustown about? Here’s the author speaking through one of his characters “Look this isn’t magic realism This is not another story about superstitious island people and their primitive beliefs No You don’t get off that easy This is a story about people as real as you are and as real as I once was before I became a bodiless thing floating up here in the sky”Intrigued? How could you not be? This book is simply magnificent a testimony to where the creative mind can take us and an affirmation of why I read The characters are fresh and original from the self named Ma Taffy who was blinded by rats but still sees plenty to the sniveling and self important schoolteacher Mr Saint Josephs who takes it upon himself one day to cut off the dreadlocks of a little boy named Kaia – a name that literally means “home”Why does the act of cutting off dreadlocks matterand how does it lead to something that Jamaicans call the “autoclaps”and what we know as “calamity”? Kei Miller in prose that soars and captivates seamlessly weaves in the history of the Rastafarian heritage particularly that of a charismatic preacher named Alexander Bedward with the ability to levitate The flying preacherman as he was called becomes not just a metaphor but a symbol As Kei Miller writes “You may as well stop to consider a urgent uestion; not whether you believe in this story or not but whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in”To really understand one’s sense of self Mr Miller suggests you need to have something to believe in And uncovering what that “something” is challenging when the people are subjugated disrespected and unempowered Otherwise the only way to “fly away to Zion” is by dying and indeed our narrator whose identity is only unveiled at the end has had to suffer that fate This is a stunning book picking up the Kingstown patois and combining it with a lyrical poetry It is so convincingly written so beautifully rendered that I cannot imagine it not making my Top Ten list for 2017

  3. says:

    An inverted gold crown on a jet background graces my cover of Kei Miller’s 2016 novel Augustown and the fiction points to the couple of days in the 20th C when the power structure inverted in a small town in Jamaica A flying preacher Alexander Bedward is instrumental in inspiring the beginnings of the Rastafarian movement in 1920’s Jamaica That story is wrapped around a current parallel story of Gina the clever girl some thought would also fly the stories bounce against each other like echoes Power and powerlessness entwine in this novelA town is populated with memorable figures like blind Ma Taffy gun and drug runner Marlon the dread headed part white child Kaia born out of wedlock the childless spinster Sister Gilzene who could sing an operatic soprano Rastafarian fruit peddler Clarky the uptight upright teacher Mr Saint Josephs whom we suspect is insane and a white family a corporate father with ugly values his wife learning to ignore him and a boy who was selfish in the way white people are when they ‘do not see color’A bit of a thriller this novel because we scent blood early on with the guns Marlon stashes under Ma Taffy’s house Clarky dying and crazy old Bedward rising up like some kind of lunatic second coming going Oppression surrounds and weighs on us like humidity “The rastaman thinks draw me a map of what you seethen I will draw a map of what you never seeand guess me whose map will be the bigger than whose?Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?”—from Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion Only after I looked for interviews with Miller did I realize he is considered a poet first though in descriptions of his education he says he started with prose stories He is lavishly talented and writes with an enlightened sexual awareness This novel has a strong set of female characters and in his 2010 collection of poems called A Light Song of Light we also get that sense of even ground and Every bed was made illegal by the brushof chest against chest and by our sweat from A Short History of Beds We Have Slept in Together Miller saves his challenges for colonialists and from his words we recognize Miller understands rage and sorrow how they have forced us to live in a world lacking in mermaids mermaids who understood that they simply were and did not need permission to exist or to be beautiful The law concerning mermaids only caused mermaids to pass a law concerning man that they would never again cross our boundaries of sand; never lift their torsos up from the surf; never again wave at sailors salt dripping from their curls; would never again enter our dry and stifling world from The Law Concerning Mermaids Historical figures feature in this poetry collection including Alexander Bedward again Singerman Marley? Nathaniel Morgan Coolie Duppy etc and there is a strong scent of homesickness Miller has lived in Great Britain for some years now and perhaps is telling the same story over and over in a new way each time pruning and training the branches until they remind him of homeIn the poetry collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion published in 2014 Miller’s language is English but there appear so many words we have never seen that we are unsteady unsure very nearly undone UnsettledSo consider an unsettled islandInside—the unflattened and unsugaredfields; inside—a tegaregsprawl of roots and canopiesinside—the tall sentries of blondwoodand yoke wood and sweet woodof dog wood of bullet trees so hard they will one day splinter cutlasseswill one day swing low the carcasses of slaves; inside—a crawlingbrawl of vines unseemlyflowers that blossom from their spines; inside—the leh guh orchids and labrishinghibiscuses that throw raucoussyllables at crows whose heads are red as annattos; inside—malarial mosuitoesthat rise from stagnant ponds;inside—a green humidity thick as mud;inside—the stinging spurge the nightshades the Madame Fates;inside—spiders gnats and bees wasps and lice and fleas; inside—the dengue the hookworm the heatand botheration; unchecked mackasharp as crucifixion This is no paradise—not yet—not this unfriendly untamed island—this unsanitised unstructured island—this unmannered unmeasured island;this island unwritten unsettled unmapped—from Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion The unsettlement one feels when reading the poem is curiously the way Miller makes us feel in his novel though he does not use such words We retain a kind of distance Just as well There is danger everywhere The only other place that ever gave me this sense of familiarity and menace was another island with a bloody colonial history TasmaniaThis is a new cultural sphere; it takes some time to accustom to this point of view The language which is at once foreign and familiar continental and island melodic and profane knowing and naive Hope is not an obvious choice when one is the underclass Rastafarians have a mighty sense of their closeness to god and ghost White folk don’t offer the same opportunities This truth is such a relief after centuries of colonial cantWe can feel the tide the sun the heat; we smell the flowers the sea the mangoes Miller’s language in Augustown is easily poetic not caught in it but casual and natural The story Gina’s growing up and standing up is where we’re focused And yetand yet the bleaching light on the sunbaked road and the overhanging flowers thrust their way into the story embellishing it making us a little homesick too The chapter on autoclaps sueezed the heart and was almost pure poetry This chapter made the book Kei Miller’s Any other author may have left that chapter out and they would have been utterly wrongWe humans in the world for centuries in every country have put men in charge ofeverythingour well being our safety our protection Since barely cognizant I have always thought that was a lot to lay on one half of the human race Kei Miller seems to understand thisExtraordinary

  4. says:

    I selected this book from the Tournament of Books longlist as a potential dark horse I really liked it and would love to see it make the shortlist I like the way it plays with storytelling and assumptions the reader might be makingHalfway through I was confronted with thisLook this isn't magic realism This is not another story about superstitious island people and their primitive beliefs No You don't get off that easy This is a story about people as real as you are and as real as I once was before I became a bodiless thing floating up here in the sky You may as well stop to consider a urgent uestion; not whether you believe in this story or not but whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe inThe novel starts with a woman in a specific area known as Augustown which may be based on the real life area of Jamaica referred to as August Town now known as Ma Taffy somewhat of a matriarch for her nieces and nephews and greatnieces and greatnephews She is blind but knows something has gone wrong because she can smell something which she can't at that moment identify Kaia returns home from school and she discovers his dreadlocks have been chopped off by his teacher From there Ma Taffy starts telling a story about a flying preacherman who showed up in Augustown when she was younger This connects to the autoclaps ie apocalypse events that are about to occur The novel ends up roughly divided into before and after and it all spirals around Kaia's day at school There is a lot here about modern non tourist Jamaica

  5. says:

    With this amazing novel Miller provides a portrait of 20th century Jamaican history through conversations retelling of folk stories and witnessed events with mythic interpretation We see attempts of the darkest skin people to break free spiritually in a culture where skin tone defines class All of this happens in Augustown the poor section of KingstonMa Taffy has raised three girls and now the child of the last a six year old boy Kaia He is being raised Rastafarian by his mother Gina and one day his teacher becomes enraged with his appearance On his return home sobbing Ma Taffy tells him the story of the Flying Preacherman Master Bedward whom Ma had seen levitating toward the heavens when she was a child Ah magical realism vs the power of stories and memory Miller has much to say about this throughout the book These people live on their stories which repeat and repeat through generations Those who attempt to alter or rise above their history seem to risk everything There is a feeling of darkness behind the words that speaks of brutality racial and class divides a long history Myth and the gift of stories can be a trap to hold one inside this history or a ladder with a way out I may have to read this again to better understand Miller's views Miller is a poet as well as a prose writer and it shows in his work I recommend this book highly with the caveat that it is not a straightforward linear novel Thanks to The World's Literature group for leading me to this book

  6. says:

    A hauntingly beautiful and yet brutal story It's a hard combination to pull off and Miller does it Lyricism can be used to make ugly things too pretty and bearable but I never felt that Miller walked into this trap instead his poetry of expression allowed me to look straight into the story and to see the humanity and uniueness of his characters Augustown also manages to tell a lot of story in a little book only 250 pages In these ways I prefer it to Marlon James's bludgeon of a masterpiece A Brief History of Seven Killings With Augustown I was better able to enter the book and to enjoy it on its own terms

  7. says:

    Look this isn’t magic realism This is not another story about superstitious island people and their primitive beliefs No You don’t get off that easy This is a story about people as real as you are and as real as I once was before I became a bodiless thing floating up here in the sky You may as well stop to consider a urgent uestion; not whether you believe in this story or not but whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in Augustown Jamaica April 11 1982 There's something in the air that Ma Taffy can smell Since she cannot see her other senses are heightened—including the gift that helps her foretell of the coming 'autoclaps' That's an important part of this book and I won't tell you what it is You are meant to discover that for yourself What this book brings together is many lives in one space Many moments in time in one pivotal moment A reflection of history and today and yesterday too What you will experience is something uniue Something beautifully told Miller is also a poet after all And uite an unforgettable story that weaves together true history with something maybe not so real but that's for the reader to decide for themselvesA lovely surprise of a novel Glad I went into this one having never heard about it or read much up on it and with no preconceived notions It would've likely destroyed all of them anyway

  8. says:

    35 stars The longer I reflect on this book the nuanced my thoughts become Kei Miller can write his ass off No uestion His prose throughout this novel was simply jaw dropping but there were some instances where this writing style got in the way of the story And although the story unfolded brilliantly in retrospect the novel's plot is part basic part impressive and part disjointedRegardless this is an absolutely gorgeous novel that explores so much including class issues fables family and rastafarianism There's uite a bit to enjoy in this book

  9. says:

    this is the story of the jamaican people but it is also the story of all the peoplewith melatonin in their skinwho were enslavedand then were freedand nothing changed becausethey were owned anywayso they created their storiesand the stories are truethey are stories of hope and elevationeven asthey are still ownedand traumatizedand casually lynchedand you can'tkeepthemdowncuzthey fly

  10. says:

    “To know a man properly you must know the shape of his hurt—the specific wound around which his person has been formed like a scab”I am mesmerized by Kei Miller’s uniue poetic voice There’s a soft ring to it a gentle clarityAugustown has a timeless uality as if it wasn’t so much written as revealed And after reading it I feel like a child feels after a magical fairy tale aware of a whole new worldJamaica is a place I’ve never been an exotic locale to me But Miller did something special here He wove dialect through the story created vivid characters like Ma Taffy and Sister Gilzene and Bongo Moody and shared local folklore and beliefs simply but clearly explaining how they came to be And the way he did this made me an outsider feel in the end as if this story was mine like it belongs to me nowI recommend avoiding spoilers The surprises in the telling of this are part of the magic At the same time it is a book rich in layers that I will want to re read many times “ perhaps it is time at last to make space in yourself to believe such stories and to believe the people who tell them”

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