Motherland and Other Stories

Motherland and Other Stories

9781845234799
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Wandeka Gayle’s mostly young black women protagonists win our hearts as risk-taking, adventurous explorers of the white world, away from home, which at some point has been Jamaica. They include Roxanne who starts work in a care home in London, who strikes up a rapport with a depressed old man who used to be a writer; Ayo who heads to college in Louisiana, and fights off the internalised voice of her godly, tambourine-beating aunt to begin an affair with an engaging, slightly older white man; there’s Sophia who comes to work in Georgia, who struggles to know whether her inability to engage more deeply with other people is really about racism or, rather,  a more personally embedded reluctance. What characterises these women is a readiness to encounter, an attempt to get to grips with the oddities and strangeness of the white world, and like Ayo to engage with it, whilst being pretty sure that Forrest “could never understand her world”. They take risks and are sometimes forced to pay for their courage. Other characters have to confront situations of their own making, like Angela returning from the USA for her mother’s funeral, trying to find some point of contact with the now almost grown children she abandoned, or Melba who, after her husband dies, must confront the silence she has permitted in their marriage. The situations that Wandeka Gayle writes about are in the main the stuff of everyday life, but she writes with such an empathy, grace and acute psychological understanding that one cannot but engage with her characters. There’s an easy democracy of inwardness with them, too; she is as much at home with the ill-educated, apparently ambitionless and illiterate, as with a sophisticated lecturer like Michel meeting up with an old flame at a literary conference.