What’s your favorite character driven story?
In Fruit of The Lemon by Andrea Levy, the author describes the journey of self-discovery her character, Faith, takes to craft her identity as a British-born Jamaican while learning about her family’s heritage.
As a first-generation child of Jamaican immigrants, Faith is set adrift between her life in Britain & her family’s Jamaican cultural heritage. Surrounded by White friends & flatmates, Faith is the victim of casual racism & constant humiliation at her peers’ hands.
Faith’s parents & brother, on the other hand, treat her as an anomaly. To her parents, she is rudderless with no understanding of her Jamaican heritage. Yet, neither parent will tell her what she needs to know to grow closer to the country they love so dearly. Faith’s brother sees her as disconnected from her roots & writes her off as a “lost cause,” as he finds his footing in between the hyphen as a British Jamaican. It is not until a trip to the “Motherland” that Faith begins to craft an identity for herself.
What I most enjoyed about Levy’s story is that it is a character-driven story. In Faith, Levy explores the nuanced feelings of being set between cultures and being made to choose which one you will embrace when you are the child of immigrants who raise you to be fit for all the opportunities they never had and distant from their homeland. This depiction of life “in between the hyphen” feels akin to real life.
Because of this angle, though, Levy’s exploration of Faith’s character climaxes when she finally gets Faith on Jamaican soil. The glimpses readers get of Faith’s interaction with her Jamaican family are fascinating. However, by the end of the novel, there is no sense that Faith had gotten any better at understanding who she is than when she first started off in Jamaica. When this section is held up against the section in London where Faith is mercilessly tortured at the hands of her White boss and friends experiencing continuous microaggressions, Levy’s work feels unfinished.
I will say, though, that Levy’s choice to explore the “hyphenated identity” of her character is something that any BIPOC person can understand regardless of their country or their economic class.
This is because we all eventually go through some metamorphosis that moves us further away from our ancestral “home base,” be it through our economic status or geographical location. And due to this change, we often face scrutiny within our community or outside forces, who either see us as pretenders or as phony in how we present ourselves once we are removed from that home base.
Therefore, it’s easy to understand the struggles Faith faces as she battles intergenerational trauma, colonization, & casual racism to become self-actualized.
Fruit of the Lemon is a book everyone needs to read at least once!
If you enjoy it, I’d suggest reading Andrea Levy’s whole catalog. So far, I’ve started reading Every Light in the House Burnin’ and Small Island. Both are really good books and show the depth of Levy’s writing and exploration of characters.
If you’re a lover of short stories, Levy’s short story collection, Six Stories and An Essay, is masterful. The way Levy handles her subjects and shows the difference in her characters’ socioeconomic background with just a simple sentence or detail is something I admire. It reminds me of Alice Walker’s collection, In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women, and the way Walker only needed a few lines to tell such a detailed story.
Have you all read Fruit of the Lemon or any of Levy’s other books? Let me know in the comment below!
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