Fruit of the Lemon A Novel

Andrea Levy




Trade Paperback

352 Pages


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Faith Jackson knows little about her parents' lives before they moved to England. Happy to be starting her first job in the costume department at BBC television, and to be sharing a house with friends, Faith is full of hope and expectation. But when her parents announce that they are moving "home" to Jamaica, Faith's fragile sense of her identity is threatened. Angry and perplexed as to why her parents would move to a country they so rarely mention, Faith becomes increasingly aware of the covert and public racism of her daily life, at home and at work.
At her parents' suggestion, in the hope it will help her to understand where she comes from, Faith goes to Jamaica for the first time. There she meets her Aunt Coral, whose storytelling provides Faith with ancestors, whose lives reach from Cuba and Panama to Harlem and Scotland. Branch by branch, story by story, Faith scales the family tree, and discovers her own vibrant heritage, which is far richer and wilder than she could have imagined.


Praise for Fruit of the Lemon

"It is Levy's light touch in tense situations—when a white friend's father calls a black girl 'darkie' and 'coon' in Faith's presence, when she interacts with villagers in the English countryside—that allows us to experience rather than merely watch Faith's growing disillusionment . . . At times, you might even be tempted to read bits and pieces aloud, just to hear the lyrical quality of the Jamaican-accented English. Though Levy writes specifically about black Jamaican Britons and their struggles to be acknowledged as full members of the larger society, her novel illuminates the general situation facing all children of postcolonial immigrants across the West, from the banlieue of France to the Islamic neighborhoods of New York to the Hispanic ghettos of Los Angeles."—Uzodinma Iweala, The New York Times Book Review
"As an English novelist of Afro-Caribbean descent, Andrea Levy launches her works with great aplomb into the shifting seas of the concept formerly known as the British Empire. Her last novel, Small Island, won the Orange Prize, the Whitbread Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Fruit of the Lemon, her new one, follows exceptionally well in its footsteps, a work that feels of a piece with Small Island and its story of Jamaicans in post-World War England while carving a fresh niche where new characters can breathe and grow. Faith Jackson counts herself entirely at home on English soil. Everything about it is her home, several times over: her immigrant Jamaican parents' initial council flat, where she and her older brother were born, then the 'house in a proper street that they were so proud of they sent pictures of it to relatives with invitations to come and stay' . . . [Faith] is someone who has, finally, outgrown the little girl she had buried at the bottom of her memory well, the shivering child in the playground taunted by the 'bully boys' shouting 'You're a darkie. Faith's a darkie.' She is, she now concludes, 'the bastard child of Empire and I will have my day' . . . Those are uplifting, exciting and promising words for the Faiths of our day and age, and for the others whose stories, it is hoped, Andrea Levy will go on to write."—Chicago Tribune
"[A] charming Fruit of the Lemon takes its title from the song 'Lemon Tree,' which laments that the beautiful tree produces a fruit 'impossible to eat.' This becomes a metaphor for the black Londoner who seems to have everything—education, employment, social mobility—but suffers from a bitterness just beneath the brilliant surface . . . The portion of the novel set in Jamaica is, in equal measures, engaging and frustrating. Levy unfolds Faith's family history in a series of testimonies with titles such as 'Coral's Story told to me by Coral' and 'Cecelia's Story told to me by Vincent.' These oral histories tell of a time when colonialism and slavery devastated the entire society, particular communities, family bonds and individual sanity. Always powerful, these stories are infused with a sense of humor that provides the novel with a certain buoyancy without undercutting its gravity. Take the story of blue-eyed cousin Constance, who returns from England forever changed: 'Constance called England Babylon—a place of sin where the evil white man lived—and swore she would never return . . . Constance stopped combing her hair, sat in the sun, wiped her skin with cocoa butter. And told everyone she was letting her black inside out.' Such vivid descriptions draw us in, but Levy is soon on to the next history, full of colorful characters, sparkling dialogue and engaging predicaments. One feels like a gate-crasher at a neighbor's family reunion: The stories and characters are insightful and bubbling with emotion . . . Fruit of the Lemon, essentially a heartwarming novel of self-discovery, is peppered with incidents of real bravery and unguardedness."—Tayari Jones, The Washington Post
"Levy's strengths as a writer and her strong sense of social engagement, both of which made me a fan and close reader from her luminous first novel, Every Light in the House Burning, are present here. Levy's work is subtle and compelling, with a remarkable ear for language and dialect. She is also able to make epics out of the lives of seemingly ordinary Londoners, a feat that by itself deserves celebrating."—Chris Abani, San Francisco Chronicle
"The author draws on her deep wellspring of inspiration, the history and dislocation that has informed all of her fiction, rooted as it is in the black-British working-class immigrant experience, as observed from the perspective of the second generation . . . Unassuming though Levy's empathetic talent may appear to be, her gift for incisive social commentary is wholly evident in this low-key novel. Faith's simple story is a sharp lesson in the complexity of immigrant identity, intensified by family secrets that leave shadowy absences where connections ought to be. Levy, who rarely raises her voice, has the full measure of a Jamaican heritage."—The Miami Herald
"Bright and inventive . . . Levy's command of voices, whether English or Jamaican, is fine, fresh and funny."—The Observer (London)
"Always refreshingly undogmatic . . . [readers] will recognize the truthfulness of the world which Andrea Levy describes."—The Sunday Telegraph
"A thoughtful comment on racism and the importance of knowing where you are from."—The Sunday Times (London)
"By the author of Small Island, which won both the Orange and Whitbread Prizes, an engaging tale of emerging race identity and heritage, first published in the UK in 1999. More comic than Small Island, this book charts Faith Jackson's growing, increasingly positive acknowledgement of her blackness, her ancestry and her position in late-20th-century England. Her parents came to England—the Mother Country—from Jamaica on a banana boat, settled, worked hard and had two children, Faith and her brother Carl, who grew up in a happy household in London. Faith, who knows almost nothing about her parents' past or her relatives in Jamaica, takes a degree in fashion and textiles, then moves out of the family home into a shared house and gets a job at the BBC. So far, so normal, except that whether seeking a promotion at work or visiting the country home of one of her white housemates, she repeatedly encounters ingrained, unacknowledged British racism. Her parents' plans to retire to Jamaica and a violent right-wing attack on a black woman working in a local bookshop tip the balance, and Faith has a breakdown. To help her recover, she is sent to Jamaica to visit her aunt. On the island, Faith meets her relations and begins to piece together her family tree. A sequence of anecdotes and vignettes—stories of skin color, poverty, hard work, elitism, aspiration and emigration—reveals the tradition from which she has emerged. Levy neatly exposes the complex history of black Jamaicans in this series of episodes, which provides Faith with an answer for those bullies and racists: 'I am the bastard child of Empire and I will have my day.' An enjoyable, deft combination of humor and telling observation on owning one's race and roots."—Kirkus Reviews
"Levy, winner of the Orange Prize and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for Small Island, here delivers a solid meditation on the power of family stories. Faith Jackson begins a career in television with optimism only to be stymied by the casual racism that meets her everywhere in London. Confused, Faith turns to her Jamaican-born parents, but their solutions—getting married and going to church—don't resonate with her. Trapped between two worldviews, Faith literally takes to her bed until an invitation to visit Jamaica opens a new world of possibilities for her. The rambling, disconnected anecdotes of London life give way to an intricate tapestry of lively family narratives as stories of Faith's ancestors provide a foundation from which she can draw strength. Fans of Zadie Smith will appreciate Levy's explorations of race and class . . . Recommended for large fiction collections."—Leigh Anne Vrabel, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



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Born in 1956 to Jamaican parents, Andrea Levy is the author of three previous novels. She lives and works in London.
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  • Andrea Levy

  • Andrea Levy was born in 1956 to Jamaican parents. The author of four novels, she has received a British Arts Council Writers Award, and her novel Small Island won both the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Best of the Best Orange Prize. She lives and works in London.
  • Andrea Levy ©Laurie Fletcher




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