From Harvey River
By Lorna Goodison
(McClelland & Stewart, Hardcover, 9780771033834, 288pp.)
Publication Date: February 6, 2007
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“Throughout her life my mother, Doris, lived in two places at once: Kingston, Jamaica, where she raised a family of nine children, and Harvey River, in the parish of Hanover, where she was born and grew up.”
When Doris Harvey’s English grandfather, William Harvey, discovers a clearing at the end of a path cut by the feet of those running from slavery, he gives his name to what will become his family’s home for generations. For Doris, Harvey River is the place she always called home, the place where she was one of the “fabulous Harvey girls,” and where the rich local bounty of Lucea yams, pimentos, and mangoes went hand in hand with the Victorian niceties of her parents’ house. It is a place she will return to in dreams when her fortunes change, years later, and she and her husband, Marcus Goodison, relocate to “hard life” Kingston and encounter the harsh realities of urban living in close quarters.
In Lorna Goodison’s spellbinding memoir of her forebears, we meet a cast of wonderfully drawn characters, including George O’Brian Wilson, the Irish patriarch of the family who married a Guinea woman after coming to Jamaica in the mid-1800s; Doris’s parents, Margaret and David, childhood sweethearts who became the first family of Harvey River; and their eight children, Cleodine, straight-backed and imperious; serious Albertha, called “Miss Jo” because she was missing all sense of joviality; beautiful Howard, who dies an early death; Rose, whose loveliness inspires devotion but whose own heart is never fulfilled; taxi-man Edmund, who yearns for the freedoms of the big city; Flavius, who spends his life searching for the true church of God; large-hearted, practical-minded Doris, whose bottomless cooking pot often feeds more than just her family; and vivacious, hard-headed Ann, whose gift of reading hair tells her the future.
In lush, vivid prose, textured with the cadences of Creole speech, Lorna Goodison weaves together memory and mythology to create a vivid tapestry. She takes us deep into the heart of a complete world to tell a universal story of family and the ties that bind us to the place we call home.
Lorna Goodison is the author of eight books of poetry, including Travelling Mercies, Controlling the Silver, and Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems, and two collections of short stories. She has received much international recognition, including the Musgrave Gold Medal. Born in Jamaica, Goodison has taught at the University of Toronto and now teaches at the University of Michigan. She divides her time between Ann Arbor and Toronto.
“In Lorna Goodison’s brilliant memoir, she has ‘taken back her language’ from the clichés and drowsy characterizations of a country and its people. The language and love with which she describes Harvey River and Jamaica have left my senses planted firmly in the sweet mud of an island that becomes a world. Like the clean and cleansing waters of the Harvey River, Goodison’s poetic language washes over us, elevating her observations of place and people to the realm of a masterpiece.”
“This literary memoir glows with the lyricism that has made the author one of the leading poets of the Caribbean region. . . . Awash with history, Jamaican culture, folklore and dialect. . . . A lovingly crafted record of a family, told with honesty, humour and beautiful prose.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Compelling. . . . From Harvey River is a poet’s memoir in the best sense, catching moments, moods and flavours with vivid imagery. . . . Goodison is not inventing here so much as remembering, and her telling of these memories is moving and lyrical. . . . Her story unfolds as life itself unfolds: nudged forward by impersonal events and personal choices, defined by pivotal scenes but couched in the daily and the ordinary.”
“Goodison understands that life struggles are inevitably and inveterately struggles of history as well as struggles of language to memorialize everyday or extraordinary realities and dreams. Her memoir is saturated with the sense of ordinary lives going on, of things unfolding as they would, and of plain old history infiltrating or poking through family history.”
—Globe and Mail
“So exquisite it stands as an example of the possibilities of the form. . . . A feat of history, imagination and artistic achievement. . . . [It] is a sumptuous montage of landscapes, portraits and anecdotes. . . . Goodison’s voice, her tone and choice of language, brilliantly reflects the mingling of African and British culture. . . .”
“Lorna Goodison takes readers down memory lane as she weaves tales of fact and fiction. . . . This genealogy is written in a voice that I am sure most would love to give to long-lost relatives. . . . From Harvey River will bring to mind [Jamaica’s] colourful recipes, local idioms and history.”
“A lyrical, luscious book, From Harvey River is not just the story of a family and a village, it is a passport to an island where the plaiting lineages of a footloose world come home. Shaped with intoxicating grace and clarity, these characters will move right in and take up permanent residence in your heart.”
“Lorna Goodison’s language pours forth like Miles Davis, singing up the members of her family like one psychic organism but autonomous and singular. No one who reads From Harvey River will see Jamaica the same way again.”
“With her poet’s magic, Lorna Goodison has recaptured the history of her large family —
its highs and lows, loves and losses, stories and songs — stretching back into Jamaica’s past to the last days of slavery. A spellbinding and deeply moving tale.”
—Natalie Zemon Davis
“Steeped in local lore and spiced with infectious dialect and ditties, Goodison’s memoir reaches back over generations to evoke the mythic power of childhood, the magnetic tug of home and the friction between desire and duty that gives life its unexpected jolts.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)