Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Twenty-Eight Pounds Ten Shillings by Tony Fairweather. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to HopeRoad Publishing for my digital review copy. Do check out the Instagram post by my tour buddy for today, Lisa at numberslady_reads.
About the Book
It is 1948, and post-war Britain is on her knees. The call has gone out to the British Empire for volunteers to help rebuild the ‘Mother Country,’ and young men and women from across the Caribbean have been quick to respond, paying the considerable sum of £28 10s to board HMT Empire Windrush – the ‘ship of dreams’ that will take them to their new lives.
Meet Mavis, a 22-year-old Trinidadian nurse who just wants to see the world. Chef, the best cook on the island, desperate to get to London and his wounded soldier son. Norma, who wants to teach the British how to teach, and her funny best friend Lucretia, who is sure that every man wants her, and that English food is very… English.
Their epic journey took two weeks, but for some it was a lifetime. Friendships were made and broken. There were love affairs and fights; dancing and dominoes; gambling and racism. Many of the young people on board that ship had never left their parents or their parishes, let alone their islands. Their lives would never be the same again.
Format: Hardback (320 pages) Publisher: HopeRoad Publishing
Publication date: 26th May 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Set largely aboard the HMT Empire Windrush, what the book does particularly well is demonstrate that those who travelled from the Caribbean were not a homogenous group. They come from different islands each of which have their own unique culture. The passengers also have a variety of reasons for deciding to travel to England. For some it’s out of necessity or to be reunited with family. For others it’s a desire for a new life or a way to make some money before returning home. Many of the passengers are – rightly, as it turns out – wary of the reaction that will greet them upon their arrival in England.
Although the Second World War is over, its legacy is still felt. For example, amongst the passengers is a group of recently demobbed West Indian soldiers who feel their contribution to the war effort has been overlooked, even belittled by the authorities and by the British soldiers they fought alongside. The most stark reminder of the longlasting impact of war is the character of Mickey.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of and I found myself having to create a list of who was who, who was travelling with whom and, latterly, who was pairing up with whom. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the frequent switching between different characters within a single chapter (with no identifiable breaks, at least in my digital copy). At times this became rather confusing. Longer sections from the point of view of a smaller number of characters would have made me feel I’d got to know them better. Having said that, my favourite characters were probably Mavis and Chef, along with the Captain of the HMT Empire Windrush who we discover has reasons of his own to fear discrimination.
Much of the dialogue is rendered in the patois of Jamaica and Trinidad, and although this gives a wonderful sense of authenticity I occasionally found myself having to reread a sentence. There is however a useful glossary at the end of the book. For those who are sensitive to such things, there is frequent use of strong language and some descriptions of sexual intimacy.
I enjoyed the moments of humour in the book, such as the Caribbean passengers’ univerally negative opinion of the food served up by the British chefs. Given most of the passengers are young, there’s plenty of dancing, drinking and eyeing up of the opposite sex. There are moments of melodrama and some serious topics are covered ranging from racist abuse to sexual assault and even murder.
I would liken Twenty-Eight Pounds Ten Shillings to a Caribbean cocktail, perhaps a rum punch. It has some fruity elements, an authentic flavour and a generous slug of stronger stuff.
In three words: Authentic, dramatic, characterful
Try something similar: The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon
About the Author
Tony Fairweather was born in Clapham, the son of Jamaican parents. He opened one of the first Black bookshops in the UK, before going on to work for the Voice newspaper, where he managed the Voice
book club. In 1989, Tony founded ‘The Write Thing’, an events company established to promote Black authors, which led to his working with a veritable who’s who of the Black literary world, including Bernardine Evaristo, Dr Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan, and many more. Tony is also the founder and curator of the Windrush Collection, a touring exhibition of artefacts associated with the Windrush generation. He lives in South London.
Connect with Tony