Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: Homestretch by Velma Pollard

A masterpiece in Kenya: The beautiful literary work, beauty of Caribbean lifestyle captured.
Title: Homestretch
Author: Velma Pollard
Publisher: Longman Caribbean Writers (1994)
Pages: 188
Genre: Fiction (literature)

Velma Pollard book Homestretch is currently a literature set book in Kenyan secondary schools as passed by the ministry of education.

It seams that bringing a Caribbean book for African high school students didn’t click as the the fever of negritude, slavery and colonization may be dead in this younger generation which made most students view the book as ‘plain boring’. Most students didn't do the set  book in the national examinations while other schools completely refused to teach it.

Sometimes the Jamaican patwa and Caribbean character setting did not resonate well with Kenyan problems of ethnicity, corruption and poverty in society. The characters are also well off compared to general Kenyan standards. Personally I guess Caribbean writer George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin set in pre-colonial Jamaican could have been better.

Firstly this phenomenon is brought by "not denying the influence of songs like ‘Ba ba black sheep have you any wool?’…the fact that we learnt all about Shakespeare and so on has done something in our minds to make us, somehow ashamed,” prolific writer Okot p’Bitek observed as interviewed by Robert Serumanga in London on February 1967.
The 60s Africa was held together with a quest for independence from colonialists. The negritude fever was fueled further by Rastafarian, Kwame Nkurumah, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr and Marcus Garvey not only in the continent but globally.

This has left, according to some scholars, the current generation rootless in negritude fever making Caribbean seem so far explaining the Homestretch ordeal.Scholars like Simwogerere Kyazee of Rhode University Journalism and media school argue the allure of absurdity of Big Brother Africa, Jay Z marrying Beyonce or Brad Pritt and Angelina Jolie breaking up the Jolie-Pritt union as more entertaining.

I had this ‘plain boring’ mindset till I read the book in 12  hours, it was very interesting and written in an easy plot formation capturing the reader to the end.

Velma Pollard, a senior languages lecturer at university of West Indies unravels the life of Jamaicans coming home after being in Diaspora. Pollard interweaves the western world and Jamaica as seen through four character's facets: Anthony, Brenda, Laura, Edith and David.
In excitement for a new life David and Edith left Jamaica as young couples for thirty years like most countrymen. They represent Africans in pursuit for greener pastures in the west. After shifting through work with David being a factory foreman and Edith as a nurrse the two come back to find a different country.

The two elderly couples represent the calmness home brings after the wondering turmoil.
Through Brenda the author brings the ‘lost’ Africans torn between the West and African cultures, Homestretch calls them the dry land tourists. Pollard humorously writes that “it was the twang that gave these tourists away. Halfway between Jamaica and America. The attempt to yank English when your version leaves aitches off and includes green verbs always result in something a little comical.”
Raised by her single mother MamaJoy, Brenda feels that Jamaica rejected her as she joined her father in New York. The cultural readjustments in a racially inclined education system favoring whites, and the distant makes her life difficult. Before fitting completely they move to London. Interestingly, the  Jamaican community edges her away because of her American dialect thinking she is a snob.
Lost and with low self esteem Brenda joins a radical African group opting for poetry to express her bottled up feelings and grows dreadlocks. She strikes out at  Jamaica wondering why this ‘dirty, poor and third world country' rejected her.
As a journalist back home back home covering a Jamaican story for a Black monthly tabloid the author uses Brenda on a journey to re-discover Jamaica. She shows an ordeal for educated but unemployed expatriates finding work abroad.

This is also reflected by Anthony a Stanford educated industrial engineer representing blacks in diaspora tied to the west for good pay and easy life but emotionally attached to their motherland. He lives in a black neighborhood in LA as he closely study Edith and David on their re-settlement before settling and staring a company.
When chance permits Anthony constantly visits home. He easily play the role of an anthropologist giving Brenda and readers a tour of Jamaica and the culture of other Caribbean islands.

Velma Pollard
Lastly, the ideal facet by black in diaspora is seen through Laura a surrogate daughter of David and Edith who lived in UK but easily settles in Jamaica. She fits easily with both characters bridging the gap between her parents nostalgic Jamaica, Brenda’s ‘dirty’ Jamaica and her Cousin, Anthony’s interests in Jamaica.
She joins the village life and local meeting like cultural Mento Yard while parties with fellow Diasporas back in the country. She aids in plot formation by bringing out the character traits of others.
Laura is an epitome of  change since culture is not static, the author uses her to show that the African and Western world can exist peacefully when both sides are easily understood. Laura symbolizes this ideal.

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