As the title of Maisy Card’s radiant debut suggests, this is a story of a family shaped and haunted by the past. The Paisley family’s origin story, revealed as the narrative circles down and swims up through eight generations of family life, begins with the particularly cruel form of slavery practiced on Jamaican sugar plantations.
The novel opens in 2005, when 69-year-old Jamaican-born Stanford Solomon summons his female descendants to his home in Harlem to tell them who he—and they—really are. The women include Stanford’s home healthcare worker, who has no idea that he is the father she thought was long dead.
Stanford, we learn, began life as Abel Paisley. In a miserable marriage and scarred by his experience as a rookie policeman, Abel leaves Jamaica in 1970 to find work in England along with his friend, the real Stanford. In London, they find work on the docks. When Stanford is crushed by a shipping container, the other dockworkers think the dead man is Abel. All black men look alike, right? Abel, now Stanford, seizes the moment. He abandons his family, still in Jamaica, and goes to New York to start a new life.
But on this day in 2005, it’s time for a reckoning. This all happens within the first three pages of the novel. There are many other reckonings ahead.
Card is a beguiling storyteller, and These Ghosts Are Family is layered with fraught family relationships arising from the complicated legacies of the racial divide in Jamaica and in the United States. Card’s characters—even the ghosts—are vividly drawn and compelling. The story, told in a satisfying blend of dialect and standard English, will make the reader consider both the emotional lives of the characters and the worldly circumstances that shaped them and their choices.
Card was born in Jamaica and grew up in Queens, New York. She is a public librarian and now one of our brightest new writers. There is magic in these pages.