Waltzes I Have Not Forgotten
Set in Jamaica, this novel follows the childhood and early adult life of John Monteague. The product of rape, he is born to a black mother in 1915, and guaranteed an uncertain future. When his mother is found murdered, John (then aged four) begins a complex journey during which he is brought up by various unofficial guardians, starting with an elderly Chinese woman.
Dyer’s novel is truly a multicultural work. Her young character shares his life with Blacks, Jews, Chinese and Caucasians, all of whom accept him almost without question. John’s paternal Caucasian genes provide the boy with a fair complexion, allowing John an early lesson in the fallacy of racial discrimination. Even so, he seems a bit too open-minded for the period.
Although it has many redeeming features, Waltzes I Have Not Forgotten feels too short to contain John’s complicated life. The first half of the book is choppy: characters the reader would benefit from knowing well appear and disappear all too quickly. During this same portion of the book, things happen to John that he is powerless to prevent, yet his feelings seem distant. The story becomes infinitely more satisfying – indeed, it truly comes to life – when, as a young adult, John is finally able to make decisions that will shape the rest of his life and the lives of his extended family.