With unparalleled lyricism and a command of language only a poet could possess, How to Say Babylon: A Memoir recounts Safiya Sinclair’s life as a Rastafarian child raised under the oppressive and patriarchal rule of her father. While providing a contextual background on Rastafari—a religious movement and cultural community many have heard of, but few outsiders understand—Jamaican-born Sinclair tells the story of her and her siblings’ upbringing of isolation, fear and poverty. Shining a spotlight on the persecution and unwanted attention her unorthodox upbringing garnered in Jamaica, in addition to the acts of racism running rampant in the Western world, Sinclair describes acts of ignorance and cruelty from a perspective so close, you can feel her wounds. How to Say Babylon contemplates matters of race and religion, of class and equality, of identity and womanhood, through an unforgettable voice that’s unflinchingly raw and powerful.
The beacon of light throughout this often tragic narrative is Sinclair’s journey to her vocation as a writer. With rich descriptions that feel languid and decadent, each sentence should be consumed like a meal—filled with literary nutrition and poetic garnishes that’ll leave Sinclair’s fellow writers begging for the recipe. Inhabiting a space between poetry and prose, with the very best elements of both on display, How to Say Babylon is truly a poet’s memoir. A story of Black womanhood that grips the reader through its obvious feat of craft and its captivating storytelling, the style of Sinclair’s work is utterly unique, including phonetic dialogue that brings Jamaica’s Rastafarian world to life. How to Say Babylon also considers the power of literature and education, the strength and perseverance of familial bonds and the complex notion of identity for people of color worldwide.
Above all, the pages of How to Say Babylon should be savored like the final sip of an expensive wine—with deference, realizing that a story of this magnitude comes along all too infrequently.