Thursday 7 July 2022

What A Mother's Love Don't Teach You by Sharma Taylor @IAmSharmaTaylor @ViragoBooks #WhatAMothersLoveDontTeachYou @victoriagilder #BookReview


At eighteen years old, Dinah gave away her baby son to the rich couple she worked for before they left Jamaica. They never returned. She never forgot him.

Eighteen years later, a young man comes from the US to Kingston. From the moment she sees him, Dinah never doubts - this is her son.

What happens next will make everyone question what they know and where they belong.

A powerful story of belonging, identity and inheritance, What a Mother's Love Don't Teach You brings together a blazing chorus of voices to evoke Jamaica's ghetto, dance halls, criminal underworld and corrupt politics, at the beating heart of which is a mother's unshakeable love for her son.

What A Mother's Love Don't Teach You by Sharma Taylor is published by Virago on 7 July 2022. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

This is Sharma Taylors's debut novel and whilst it was a bit of a step away from my usual reading choices, it wasn't long before I was totally captured by the writing style, the characters and the wonderfully described Kingston in Jamaica. 

When Dinah gave away her baby to her employers just before they left Kingston for the States, she knew that she would never see him again in the flesh. However, she kept him close in her heart, never forgetting him and loving him always. 

Eighteen years later, when Apollo arrives in Kingston from America, Dinah knows that this is her boy.

What follows is not just a story of a mother/son relationship, but a colourful and totally engrossing picture of 1980s Jamaica, with the contrasts between the rich and poor, the power of the criminal gangs and the corruption of politics at its heart. 

The structure is unusual, with very short chapters, told in multiple voices, from varying points of view and also incorporating patois at times. This could be too complex to work, but Taylor is clearly a very talented writer and pulls it off with ease. 

Each and every one of the characters have their own flaws which adds such depth to what could have been just a domestic, family-based story. Instead these vulnerabilities expose the characters, and the turmoil of the times in which they are living makes for a fascinating and educating read. 

It's a long book at over 400 pages, but I seemed to fly through this one as each short chapter ended, I found myself wanting to read another, and another. Cheering on some characters and hoping that others got what they deserved. 

Full of humanity, with themes of loss, retribution, identity and some violence, it's an excellent debut from an author to watch. 

Sharma Taylor is a Jamaican writer and lawyer living between Jamaica and Barbados. 

She holds a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, obtained on a Commonwealth Scholarship. 

Her short stories have been shortlisted three times for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and have won several prizes including the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Prize, Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize and the Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. What a Mother's Love Don't Teach You is her first novel.

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