The Same Earth by Kei Miller. Published in 2008.
Synopsis: Set in the village of Watersgate, Jamaica in the 1970s – 1980s, this novel tells the stories of a host of characters – most notably Imelda Richardson. While intertwining the lives of characters such as an Evangelist preacher, a foul-mouthed lawyer, a neighborhood gossip – turned fiery Pentecostal, a man obsessed with dictionaries, and a Rastaman, Miller paints a picture of small town Jamaica life and the important role religion and customs play.
About the Author: Born in Jamaica in 1979, Kei Miller divides his time between his home country and the UK, where he currently teaches creative writing at the University of Glasgow. He has previously published several collections of poetry and a collection of short stories. The latter was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book.
My Initial Reactions to the Book:
To be honest, I did not much care for this book overall. I thought it would be a quick read, as it’s only around 230 pages, but this is the longest it’s ever taken me to get through a book club pick. Throughout the first 50 pages, I wondered if the book would even develop a plot. I thought perhaps it was a collection of short stories, but this book really didn’t fit that description either. Also, I thought the ending was a bit too anti-climatic, given the suspense that had built up in the last 100 pages.
Although I wasn’t an overall fan of the book, I do have plenty of good things to say about it. First of all, Kei Miller is a very talented young writer and he has the gift of developing quirky, highly interesting characters (but he needs to work on plot development).
The part of the book I found the most interesting was when Imelda travelled to England. Here, Miller explored the themes of immigration, homesickness and what it feels like to be a stranger in a foreign country. These were issues that I could readily relate to based on my own life experiences. Likewise, when Imelda returns to Jamaica after the death of her mother, she struggles with fitting in with a society that no longer really welcomes her. This conflict is really the heart of the book.
The other interesting theme is the role of the Evangelical/Pentecostal Church, and as the character of Pastor Braithwaite suggests, it is sometimes easier to hate than to love. Joseph the Rastaman was another interesting character, and given that this book was set during Bob Marley’s prime in Jamaica and the rise of Rastafarianism as a religion, I wished that this was touched on more in the novel – the struggle between Pentecostal Christianity and it’s polar opposite in Rastafarianism.
So what did you think of the book? Did you love it or hate it? Which characters did you find to be the most interesting? Which stories were the most entertaining for you? What didn’t you like about the book? Please post your thoughts in the comments section below.
Next up for discussion: Hilary Thayer Hamann’s Anthropology of an American Girl. Discussion begins March 10th.