The Long Songby Andrea Levy
July is a slave in Jamaica in the 1800s. Life is understandably harsh, but July’s mistress, Caroline, takes a liking to her and provides her with the life of a lady’s maid which is much more genteel than the hard, forced labor of the people in the fields. Life changes for July when Caroline hires a new overseer with forward-thinking ideas. Robert’s religious upbringing has the effect that he treats the slaves with what he believes is respect – as long as they don’t overstep their bounds.
His attraction to July comes as a shock to him, but he knows a white man cannot love a black slave. Instead, he marries Caroline – an act he believes justifies his pursuit of a relationship with July. In Robert’s worldview, having both a wife and a black mistress makes him an upstanding man. For her part, July loves Robert and feels that she has been lifted above her station.
When the abolition of slavery arrives in Jamaica, chaos reigns. The once-upon-a-time slaves who still work for Robert refuse to put in the long hours he requires and the situation explodes. Robert and Caroline eventually return to England, with tragic consequences for July.
This is a very heavy read with good reason. But make no mistake – Levy’s exploration of one slave’s life during a time of terrible hardship is absolutely worth reading