Should your copy of Lorna Goodison's From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island fall open at part II, you will find yourself reading about the arrival of a cricket team in a Jamaican town. The team's driver never makes it to the pitch, falling in love with a daughter of the town's leading family instead; thus begins Goodison's parents' courtship. Set in the 1930s, it's a tale of well-dressed men and women, beautifully furnished homes and close-knit families told against a backdrop of an island nation where, as within the Harvey family itself, African and colonial heritages mingle, sometimes with pride, sometimes with conflict.
From Harvey River combines family history with that of Goodison's beloved Jamaica. She describes how the Harveys settled the town named for them, how they met their respective spouses, their shopping expeditions and, in the case of her parents, how they adjusted to living in reduced circumstances in Kingston. Along the way she explores many tangents, each one an opportunity to introduce people like Marcus Garvey and Claude McKay; the "Rocksteady" beat; even a forgotten stitch: "Every once in a while, when the culture of a people undergoes great stress, stitches drop out of existence, out of memory. The hardanga had disappeared when the great Jamaican freedom fighter Sam Sharpe was executed in 1832. . . ." Though she says this book was handed to her in a dream by her late mother, and while she has previously written about one of her ancestors (the Guinea Woman) in particular, there's another reason for this story. Growing up, she writes, "never once were we introduced to a poem, a story, or a play by a West Indian or African American writer; and very rarely did we ever encounter anything written by a woman. I secretly began to remedy that, writing . . . poems and stories by a little Jamaican girl who wanted to see herself and her people reflected in the books she read." Goodison writes in the lyrical, image-filled passages common to poets turning to prose; hers are also imbued with a slight Jamaican lilt.