Augustown by Kei Miller

For here is the truth; each day contains much more than its own hours, or minutes, or seconds. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that every day contains all of history.

Augustown is the first book I have read by Kei Miller and I am in awe of this man’s writing. Released in 2016, Augustown is a book filled with many moving parts, but they all come together in the most breathtakingly beautiful way.

The book is named after August Town, a community in Jamaica. In Augustown we meet Ma Taffy, a blind woman who sees and smells trouble a mile away. On this particular day Ma Taffy had a feeling of impending doom and disaster- autoclaps. It was not too long before she hears her six-year old Nephew Kaia crying on his way home from school. This is the same nephew Ma Taffy keeps telling “you need to grow a backbone.” Nothing could prepare Ma Taffy for the injustice her six-year-old nephew faced and she knows this is just the start of what would turn out to be an autoclaps.

While Ma Taffy and her six-year-old nephew seem to be the focal point of this story, the book covers a lot more than that.

  • We meet Bedward, some say he is the flying prophet, others say he is an ass, however, Ma Taffy tells us he is a man who was trying to do something bigger than himself and reach higher. The story of Bedward is a story we hear about in passing, Kei Miller explores this angle and you are given a greater appreciation for this flying prophet.
  • August Town is a community in Jamaica that not a lot a people venture into. Notorious for their gangs and blood shed, fear tends to grip persons when you hear the name August Town. However, in Augustown we get a more historical look at how the place came to be so notorious, along with a look at the persons who live in the community and what their daily lives entail.
  • There is the also the backstory of Rastafarism.
  • It is a story about belief and how people will do anything to take that belief away from you.

If you are a Jamaican reading this book, it will read like a history lesson or commentary on the political, social and spiritual happenings during a particular time in Jamaica. I for one learned a lot picking this up, for instance, as a child I would sing “yes now, Spanish Town…” when I know my sibling would get into big trouble. I did not know the significance of Spanish Town until I read that in the olden days the Gallows were in Spanish Town, hence the reference. Regardless of your knowledge  of the island’s history however, there is so much to learn from Miller’s words.

I love a book with strong characters who drive the plot along. Kei Miller is the master of backstory, with every character that is introduced you get an in-depth look into their lives before their introduction and how they form part of the reason for the autoclaps. Every character is a piece of the overall story, except you are not sure how they contribute until the last chapters of the book, then everything seems to come together.

This book strongly portrays Jamaica in an uncomfortable but necessary light. I love how authentic the writing and characters are. The themes of loss, revenge, family and love are explored in the most complex but most beautiful way. It is clear that Miller is well versed in the ways of Jamaicans through the various references and historical exploration done between these pages. If you are looking for a book that captures Jamaica in a way you are not used to, I strongly recommend picking this up.

I cannot believe its taken me so long to read Kei Miller’s work and I am greatly impressed by his storytelling, writing and the research that I am sure went into this book. I am making it my duty to read more of Miller’s work and so should you.

 

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