Book Reviews

Book Review: If I Survive You

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By Jonathan Escoffery

Publication Date:  September 6, 2022

272 Pages

The format of this book caught my eye.  I’m a sucker for well done interconnected stories and with the early reviews I saw on this debut singing its praises, I had to pick it up.

The stories focus on a family who fled the violence in Jamaica in the early 1970s and settled in Miami.  The main character is the youngest son, Trelawny, and if I didn’t know better, I might have thought this was a memoir.  The prose is fantastic and jumps right into Trelawney dealing with issues of race and where he fits in.  He doesn’t quite meld with the Latinos, he has no better luck with the African Americans kids, and telling people he’s Jamaican only earns him blank stares, even from other darker-skinned Jamaicans.

That’s only the jumping-off point.  While roughly linear, the book switches from family member to family member but manages to paint the reader a coherent picture as time moves on.  The chapter narrated by Trelawney’s father is so heavy on the patois, it was honestly hard to read until I finally fell into the rhythm.  Cousin Cukie makes an appearance, tracking down a father who would rather not be found – his story had the most disturbing ending.  Trelawney’s brother Delano laments the difficulties of staying afloat financially during an economic downturn, and finally the story comes back to Trelawney who finds himself in some truly bizarre situations in an effort to earn enough money to move out of his truck.  

“If I Survive You” interpreted by Wombo Dream

About 80% of me loved this book.  The prose is lyrical and each voice is distinct.  I’m also normally not a fan of second person point of view, but it worked in this novel. However, it also reminded me why I don’t read a lot of literary fiction.  Rarely does literary fiction endings get wrapped up in a neat bow and this novel was no exception; the story line sort of faded away and left me hanging.  I assume things turned out well, but the author didn’t give me any hints.  I also would have loved a chapter in the mother’s point of view, but while that’s on my wish list, I didn’t down-star the novel because of it.

Recommended for anyone who’s looking for a new voice and a collection of realistic but quirky stories.

3.75/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+

Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for providing the ARC.  I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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