Jamaica, 1938. Gloria Campbell is 16 when a violent deed forces her to flee to Kingston with her sister. There she meets the people who will shape her life for decades to come: politically astute prostitute Sybil, compassionate businessman Henry Wong and, perhaps most of all, racketeer Yang Pao. But Gloria discovers that the past is something you carry with you unless you confront your demons…
I can’t praise this book enough. Although the subject matter sounds sordid – prostitutes and racketeers making a living amid political upheaval – nothing could be further from the truth. Written in Jamaican dialect, the novel effortlessly captures the voice of its troubled heroine. The deceptively simple style conceals the complex way apparently unrelated plotlines interlock.
The problems of multicultural society, gender inequality and the states of mind that keep characters locked into certain patterns of behaviour are all examined. Even minor characters have depth, and those who behave badly are shown to be wounded by life, rather than intrinsically evil. This is evidently a parallel tale to Young’s debut, Pao, which was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – a book I’m now desperate to read.