Title: Fruit of the Lemon
Author: Andrea Levy
Paperback: 339 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
From Andrea Levy, author of Small Island and winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Best of the Best Orange Prize, comes a story of one woman and two islands.
Faith Jackson knows little about her parents’ lives before they moved to England. Happy to be starting her first job in the costume department at BBC television, and to be sharing a house with friends, Faith is full of hope and expectation. But when her parents announce that they are moving “home” to Jamaica, Faith’s fragile sense of her identity is threatened. Angry and perplexed as to why her parents would move to a country they so rarely mention, Faith becomes increasingly aware of the covert and public racism of her daily life, at home and at work.
At her parents’ suggestion, in the hope it will help her to understand where she comes from, Faith goes to Jamaica for the first time. There she meets her Aunt Coral, whose storytelling provides Faith with ancestors, whose lives reach from Cuba and Panama to Harlem and Scotland. Branch by branch, story by story, Faith scales the family tree, and discovers her own vibrant heritage, which is far richer and wilder than she could have imagined.
Fruit of the Lemon spans countries and centuries, exploring questions of race and identity with humor and a freshness, and confirms Andrea Levy as one of our most exciting contemporary novelists.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Andrew recommended this to me a while ago and I finally had the chance to read it! I was worried at first, because his last two have been, while very good, incredibly depressing, but this was a whole lot happier and more hopeful than White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, so I can keep on with his recommendations! It’s interesting because Fruit of the Lemon does deal with the same sort of issues as those other two books — namely, what it means to be not-white in a society that favors being white, but it also marries this idea with a young woman’s coming of age. Faith has just graduated college and is trying to figure out who she is and what her place is in the world, which is made even more complicated by the fact that it’s harder for her to get the jobs that she wants because of racism and it’s harder for her to embrace her culture when she doesn’t have any friends that come from the same background as her.
I appreciated Levy’s ability to take serious concepts while also bringing humor and levity into it. Faith is living in a house with two guys and another girl, and the description of the house is hilarious, grotesque, and all too real of just-graduated-from-college young adults. The hygiene, decorating skills, and overall responsibility skills just aren’t quite there yet, but they’re trying to figure it out; Faith’s dad coming by the house because he was “in the area” is a hilarious moment because of this.
The racism in Faith’s workplace was well done — she wanted to be a dresser instead of working in the costume department of a TV station, cataloging costumes. Someone told her they never have “colored” people working those jobs, and when the hiring committee started being unfair to her, she mentioned that and eventually got the job she wanted, but they don’t actually really let her do the job, saying that no shows needed anyone to help dress the actors at the moment. This was much more interesting than Faith not getting the job outright, because it was harder for her to find something to be upset about — she got the job she wanted, they just didn’t need her to do those responsibilities right now. And then, when they do let her work, it’s to dress up dolls for a kid’s show and not actual actors.
However, this novel shines when Faith goes to Jamaica and learns about her family. More than anything, this book is about how people become who they are, how they relate to their families, and how family can tie everything together. I loved seeing Faith trace her family tree as each new story about a new relative is told to her, and even though the reader doesn’t get to see much of Faith’s transformation, I felt her becoming more comfortable with herself and who she is with each branch she adds to the tree. Fruit of the Lemon is a beautiful story about family, identity, and culture, and it’s able to tell an important story while still including humorous and touching moments. Along with my husband, I highly recommend reading this book.