Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review of From Rum to Roots by Lloyd G. Francis

Francis, L. (2013).  From Rum to Roots.  San Francisco:  Marway Publishing.

From Rum to Roots is the debut novel from author Lloyd G. Francis.  When I received the invitation to participate in the blog tour through Closed the Cover, I jumped at the opportunity after reading the synopsis, and the book met all of my expectations and then some.

The story begins in 1937 in the Jamaican countryside.  Linton McMann is the gang driver at a rum plantation owned by Major Blaine.  There is an unspoken, well-hidden secret between the two men-Linton is Major's illegitimate son.  Linton has grown up with the resentment and shame of never being publicly acknowledged by his father, despite Major's small efforts to placate him.  After violence erupts in and around the plantation as the workers rise up in an attempt to organize and demand better wages, Linton and his girlfriend Sheila escape to the settlement of Bessanworse where they join an elder named Timothy and become a part of the fledgling Rastafarian community.  Meanwhile in Kingston, 17 year old Daisy has just graduated from high school and is taking over her family's ice business while dealing with friction between her and her sister Callie, as well as her mother's new husband, Wilbur.  After a terrifying episode of abuse that Daisy shamefully keeps secret, she leaves home and marries Miles, a man who turns out to be very abusive.  Daisy leads a miserable, poverty-stricken life with her two young daughters, Janet and Lissette, while Linton struggles with the loss of Sheila and  their unborn child, leaving him to carry a heavy load of guilt and grief.  Linton and Daisy's paths finally cross in America, when they both receive visas and end up in Brooklyn, New York.  They marry and start on a solid path of upward mobility, fulfilling the American dream while attempting to erase their painful memories of Jamaica.  Daisy's dream of sending for Janet and Lissette fade with each passing year as she and Linton have children of their own and the ocean separating them seems to grow too wide to cross.

A native of Oakland, California, Lloyd G. Francis started his career as a photojournalist and ended up covering battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kashmir.  To learn more about him, check out the interview with him on the Author Interview page of this blog.

From Rum to Roots is a story of an often untold immigrant experience that turns the history of Jamaica and America in the early part of the 20th century into a mesmerizing, richly detailed narrative with characters who are endearing but flawed, and who epitomize the human struggle to survive and overcome daunting odds.  Linton and Daisy must both overcome personal histories full of pain, guilt and hurt, and until they do so,they can never truly find complete happiness, despite the material wealth that they gain as they become financially successful.  Money truly cannot buy happiness, and their attempts to shut out their past causes friction and a nagging sense of emptiness, and for Daisy, it also causes a nearly irreparable rift between herself and the daughters that she left behind in Jamaica.  This story speaks to the very real struggle that many immigrants to this country face-the desire to assimilate into American life without losing their past and heritage completely.  For Daisy and Linton, their heritage does not represent a source of pride and comfort, but instead serves as a reminder of the struggles and tragedies that they left behind.  They must ultimately realize that burying the past does not bury the pain, and that they cannot heal themselves by turning their backs on their roots, but rather by embracing them and drawing on the wisdom and pride of their ancestors and homeland.  From Rum to Roots is a moving, deeply fulfilling novel that will linger in the minds of readers long after the final page is turned.  This is a first-rate effort from a new author and a worthy piece of contemporary fiction that speaks not just to the immigrant experience, but to the general human experience as well.

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