This collection of connected short stories (272 pages) was published in September of 2022 by MCD. The book takes you to Jamaica and Miami. David read If I Survive You and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.
This series of linked vignettes — lyrical, darkly funny — tells the story of a Jamaican family fighting to find their way in Miami. It explores the in-between: of homes, of cultures, of life stages, of love.
The book opens with a brilliant one-two punch.
The first story is told by Trelawny, the son of a Jamaican immigrant in the US. Trelawny was born in the States but often feels he doesn’t belong anywhere. And, to a large extent, he doesn’t. He’s too American to be Jamaican, too Jamaican to be accepted by Americans, too brown for the white kids, not brown enough for the Mexican kids or the Black kids.
He feels it when people ask why his mother talks so funny. He feels it when his teachers ask him how he learned to speak so well. But he feels it most when people ask, ‘What are you?’
He tries saying, ‘Black,’ then goes through a phase of ‘Jamaican,’ all the while trying to connect but failing to find his way. Trelawny grows up, but it’s without a foundation; he’s perpetually on the unsure footing of someone who feels they don’t belong. You will leave this story feeling much empathy for Trelawny.
But then, the second punch lands.
We meet Trelawny’s dad, Topper. His story is written in Jamaican patois, and it’s a sketch of his life: his coming-of-age, putting aside his dreams, fleeing Jamaica, and landing in the US. He also shares his take on his son Trelawny, and the effect — seeing both sides of that story — is stunning. The complete picture emerges of how these two men resent each other. How they each wish the other was different and better. And how neither of them is willing to soften, even a little. It’s brilliant, illuminating, and tragic.
And this father-son relationship might not even be the most crucial in the book. Trelawny has a deep, messy relationship with his brother that we can’t begin to unpack here.
Author Jonathan Escoffery does a bang-up job walking the line between simply telling the story and sneaking in great wisdom and vivid description, like when Trelawny’s Chinese-American friend says she feels white. ‘What does Whiteness feel like? I imagine it’s like walking barefoot on a shag rug.’
There’s dark humor in the narrative, and there is simply dark. Some kinks are described. There’s guilt and shame and privilege. Trelawny’s life goes low. The title, If I Survive You, rings pretty loudly in some stories.
But the satisfying magic of a great story well told — with character development that feels searingly real — is on every page.
Reclined in the slow-flickering beam of television images, I scroll through my contacts and search for a friend to text with. For a moment, I consider texting my brother to see if his offer to move in with him—now that his wife up and left—still stands. His invitation had arrived with brotherly advice: People amount to their actions and you’ve been acting like a bum.
I took no offense but clarified, I identify as dispossessed. — Jonathan Escoffery
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