Sayon Hughes, a young Black man from Bristol, dreams of a world far removed from the one in which he was raised. Far removed from the torn slips outside the bookie’s, the burnt spoons and the crooked solutions his community embraces; most of all, removed from the Christianity of his uncaring parents and the prejudice of law-makers.
Growing up, Sayon found respite from the chaos of his environment in the love and loyalty of his brother-in-arms, Cuba; in the example of his cousin Hakim, a man once known as the most infamous drug-dealer in their neighbourhood, now a proselytising Muslim; and in the tenderness of his girl, Shona, whose own sense of purpose galvanises Sayon’s.
In return, Sayon wants to give the people he loves the world: a house atop a grand hill in the most affluent area of the city, a home in which they can forever find joy and safety. But after an altercation in which a boy is killed, Sayon finds his loyalties torn and his dream of a better life in peril.
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Sayon is a young man living in Bristol and has always dreamed of a world away from the one he’s grown up in. The novel begins with Sayon’s life-long dream to live in the upper side of Clifton, a wealthy white neighbourhood. However, his life is thrown into turmoil when another young man is killed. Sayon’s whole future suddenly doesn’t look as straightforward as he planned.
With themes of love, family, religion, masculinity, mental health, friendship, colourism, racism and so much more. Moses wrote a very strong debut novel. His writing is very lyrical in prose and his descriptions are breathtakingly detailed. To deny that he is talented would be criminal. It became very evident within the first few pages of this novel that I’d be taken on a journey.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book like this.
I really liked the family dynamics written in this book. The unconditional love of the grandmother, the united family unit between most of the uncles, cousins and aunts regardless of the issues they have with each other. Yes, it’s far from perfect and some family members are more than questionable. However, you can tell it’s a family that, for most, have love at the centre of their life.
I may biased as reading the Jamaican patois felt like home to me. Sometimes, I even read certain parts aloud, hearing my own grandmother’s voice. To keep that up throughout the book was impressive.
However, I think what sometimes felt overdone was the ‘road’ dialect spoken by Sayon, his friends and his cousins. It may very well be reminiscent of certain parts of Bristol but I began to question if it was very realistic. Some times it felt forced and I struggled with it sometimes, nevertheless it didn’t take anything away from the main story.
At the very heart/foundation of this book was religion. At first glance, you may see it as Christianity vs Islam. I would shift uncomfortably when I read Sayon’s thoughts on Christianity but I understood how he’d come to that conclusion.
When religion is dictated to you by authority figures, by people that preach it’s goodness but fail to adhere to the rules itself, it distort the true nature of it’s meaning. For Sayon, Christianity couldn’t be what it needed to be for him.
Moses really delves deep into the personal relationship one must have with religion and how it shouldn’t be something you follow because that’s all you know. With Sayon, we bear witness to a man discovering for himself what religion means to him and why. It’s part of his journey into discovering himself.
And that’s what this book is truly about.
Sayon making decisions for himself. Decisions that are borne out of his own mind and not from anyone else’s influence. In the world he’s from, it’s clearly difficult. But Moses shows it’s possible.
A heart-breaking but real novel about life in the lower class part of a big city. Where young boys fall into gang life because that’s all they know and been told. Where families are torn apart by money and drugs. Where colourism is rife and young dark-skin men feel they have nowhere to go but the streets. It’s devastating and Moses doesn’t hold back in showcasing this.
Balancing this with the love of friends, family and even a partner, Sayon’s young eighteen year-old self as like so many of us is trying to figure out his place in the world. I’ve seen many reviews stating that Sayon seemed much older than 18 and whilst I agree, I really think it’s due to everything he’s been through at a young age. He’s been forced to grow up quickly as many do in those situations and I do believe Moses does a really good job at depicting that.
I also really liked the love story between Sayon and Shona. Their love was the foundation of this novel and the very focal point of Sayon’s life. Everything he does…he does for Shona. It’s beautifully written. His decisions surrounding Shona’s father dictate much of this book.
Towards the end of the book, I did get a little bored in places of the long descriptions and I would have loved to delve a bit deeper into Cuba’s story. However, all in all, it was a well-written debut novel and one I’m excited to see adapted.
I saw this quote in a guardian review written by Colin Grant and I thought it was the perfect summary for this book and the best quote to end this review:
“The novel is both a tale of redemption and a guide for how young, disaffected Black Britons – especially descendants of the enslaved – might, as Bob Marley advises, emancipate themselves from mental slavery.”
Liz Dexter says
This sounds a fascinating read in parts (maybe a bit long-winded at times?) and it’s interesting to read a book not set in London, too, I think.
It’s definitely interesting to read a book outside of London for sure! And it could be long-winded especially with all the descriptions but it was an enjoyable read