‘There is something holy about Georgetown at dusk. The Atlantic curling the shoreline . . .’
It is 1960 and the Walcotts are moving into the city from the village of Highdam. School headmaster Archie Walcott knows that he will miss the openness of pastureland; his wife, Clara, the women and their nourishing ‘womantalk and roots magic; and Gem, their daughter, her loved jamoon and mango trees.
Their move into the rough and tumble Charlestown neighbourhood couldn’t have come at a worse time, for the serenity of the city is exploded by political upheavals in the country’s struggle for independence. Undercover moves – CIA-backed and supported by Britain attempt to bring down the Marxist government. Along with the sweep of events – strikes, riots, and racial dashes – daily life in the Charlestown yard and beyond gathers its own intensity. Archie’s friend, Conrad, seeing and knowing all, moves with ease among the opposing groups, monocle to his eye, white mice in his pockets; through one terrible night the neighbourhood tenses as the Ramsammy’s rum shop is threatened with burning; and Archie, troubled by the times, tries to keep a tight rein on his family. Young Gem, ever-watchful, responds with wonderment and curiosity to the new life around her.
In this, her first adult novel, Grace Nichols richly and imaginatively evokes a world that was part of her own Guyanese childhood.