This is the gold standard of memoirs. Brilliant, moving, an emotional journey, layered, spectacular, heavy, redeeming, unforgettable and un-putdownable.
I read this book a month ago and I am still unable to put into words how brilliant this memoir is. My life is forever changed reading this book. Safiya Sincliar’s writing is forever in my heart and I need everyone to experience this masterpiece and for it to win all the awards.
How To Say Babylon: A Jamaican Memoir by Safiya Sinclair’s explores childhood and adulthood growing up in a very strict Rastafarian household in Jamaica where she and especially her sisters were subjected to numerous rules to maintain and keep their purity. She showcases how this upbringing impacted every part of her life and how she was able to break free.
Safiya grew up in a Jamaican household with her mother, brother and sisters to a Rastafarian father. He was once in a popular band when he met her mother before they fell in love and started having children. He became obsessed with everything ital, purity and the teachings of Selassie and Rastafarianism. She and her siblings had to cover themselves constantly, they weren’t allowed to have friends, or lean into the Western world because it was a construct of Babylon. When asked why certain things were they way they were, “Babylon business” would be the resounding answer. Disobedience was never tolerated and her father ruled with a strong first or sometimes belt.
Despite all of this Safiya and her siblings turned out to be academically gifted, receiving scholarships, awards and being the head of their classes. This was a point of pride for her father who loved that his children were considered geniuses. Through their academic gift they were able to break free of their father’s strict rule but the scars continue to be there. In Sinclair how she worked through the trauma and how she made it out on the other side.
Friends, I have read 60 books for the year so far and this is one of my top favourite reads. I felt real emotions reading this book, I was sobbing at the end of the book and that goes back to how much of an expert writer Sinclair is. She carried me through a range of emotions which all ended in forgiveness.
I have read a lot of memoirs and this one shines the brightest and I think it is because Sinclair was able to lay bare all the things that happened to her and how she dealt with it. I learned so much about Jamaica’s history with Rastafarianism and I thank Sinclair for putting in the work and research and shining light on the massacre that happened to Rastafarians living in Jamaica. This was also the first time I read a book that details what it is like being raised with a devout Rastafarian parent.
What I loved about this book is that Sinclair did not tell a one-dimensional story, it was “my father treated me bad” she showcase his history, why he is the way he is today and how that fed into how he raised his children. His character arc… can it be a character arc if it’s a real life story? But the father’s character arc was chef’s kiss and the ending will ruin you!
If you only read one book in your life, read this!
Additional Note I know publishing are supposed to market other memoirs using memoirs we may know but I wish they had tried harder for a book like this that is distinctly Jamaican. So, if you read this memoir and loved it I highlight recommend you read Lorna Goodison’s From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island. In her book Sinclair wrote about Jamaica and her father, in Goodison’s book she also wrote about Jamaica and her mother. These books are talking to each other and I hope you find the time to read and listen.