Already on our list of 10 books you should have read in 2016, Augustown, is the phenomenal fiction novel written by Kei Miller that was published last year. It won the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and was shortlisted for the 2017 RSL Ondaatje Prize.
Miller’s third novel fictionalises an incident in 1920 Jamaica, where preacher Alexander Bedward attracts crowds from all over the island who believe he will fly to heaven, furthermore, will help them fly too. Miller uses this incident to build on and create his own fable, full of life, metaphors, and commentary on the socio-political fabric of Jamaica.
The book is loaded with significant history. Set in August Town, an area in St Andrews parish, where Jamaicans settled following emancipation, the novel is divided into three parts, with the first section detailing the character of Bedward, as Ma Taffy (a blind Rastafarian who can sense trouble), remembers it. The second part, the relighting of a fire many thought had been quelled, and the final part, the “autoclaps” (trouble on top of trouble).
Through clever word play, and excellent writing, Miller is able to seamlessly tell one main story through several smaller anecdotes. He explores colourism, sexuality, the remnants of slavery and colonialism and much more. Although Miller is saying a lot, the delivery is digestible and his writing, poetic (unsurprisingly as Miller has written poetry as well as fiction).
Critics have stated that Augustown is “truly panoramic” (Sunday Telegraph) and “richly nuanced and empathetic”(The Guardian), and Miller has been compared to fellow Jamaican writer Marlon James. Such compliments and comparisons are not hyperbolic, this is a brilliant book, and I have now ordered Millers other works.
Augustown is a story about people as real as you and me. You may want to consider the question; not whether you believe in this story or not, but whether this story is about the kinds of people you have never taken the time to believe in.