Friday, 26 March 2010

Andrea Levy: The Long Song

Andrea Levy's new novel, the Long Song, has just been listed for the Orange Prize for fiction and it's a compulsive read.

July is born a slave - the daughter of a sugar-cane worker and a brutal overseer. She is intelligent and resourceful and in 19th century Jamaica the Plantation owner’s sister takes her to train as a personal maid, teaching her to read and write. But soon the island is caught up in the violence and confusion that accompanied the end of slavery. The long desired Abolition brings - not prosperity and peace - but starvation and chaos.
July’s first child - her ‘pickney’ - a son Thomas, is fathered by a ‘free nigger’ who is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. July leaves her baby on the doorstep of a Baptist missionary she knows will give her child a better life than the one she is living. Her second child, fathered by a white man she had hoped to marry, is stolen from her and taken to England. It is the son, Thomas, reunited with his mother, who encourages her to write her own memoir.
July tells her story with humour and compassion. She is a wonderful character and I would happily have spent a much longer time in her company. The song wasn’t long enough. The best books are the ones you don’t want to end. This is a 5 star read.


  1. I thought Small Island was a superb novel and if your review and others are anything to go by, this sounds equally good. Despite having piles of books waiting to be read, I think The Long Song might have priority.

    I recently read Unconfessed by Yvette Christiansë, a South African novelist, now resident in America. Unconfessed is a profoundly moving fictional account of slavery in 18th century South Africa and I can recommend it highly. I had to get my copy sent from SA but it is now available in the UK through Amazon.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. There are some wonderful novelists out there (Oz, NZ, Canada, Sth Africa) that we rarely hear of in the UK.