Augustown by Kei Miller [in Booklist]
As both the introductory note and epithet doubly insist, August Town, divided into two words, is a real town in Jamaica, made (in)famous for being the founding home of Bedwardism, a short-lived, early twentieth-century religion.
Fast-forward to 1982 when teary Kaia comes home to his grandmother-cum-great-aunt Ma Taffy with his dreadlocks, the Rasta symbol of his Nazirite vow, hacked off by his teacher who claims his hair is a sign of insolence. Attempting to calm the bewildered child as well as herself, Ma Taffy imparts “the story of the flying preacherman,” the charlatan-turned-prophet Alexander Bedward.
The racial, political, economic dissonance back then remains just as stifling decades later, repeatedly played out in the lives of Augustown-ies, especially Kaia’s mother, who was supposed to thrive, not just survive.
“Look, this isn’t magic realism . . . . This is a story about people as real as you are,” Jamaican-born, London-domiciled Miller (The Last Warner Woman, 2012) warns through his indelible characters. “You may as well stop to consider…whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in.” Fusing facts with what-could-have-well-been, Augustown is a gorgeously plotted, sharply convincing, achingly urgent novel deserving widespread attention.