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Abeng by Michelle Cliff

Abeng (edition 1995)

by Michelle Cliff

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165472,171 (3.47)12
Authors:Michelle Cliff
Info:New York : Plume, 1995.
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:historical fiction, Jamaica, 13 in 13, NIL, LAT

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Abeng by Michelle Cliff



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Abeng is a coming-of-age story of a mixed race Jamaican girl in the 1950s. Clare's father is from a “white” family (still mixed race, but lighter skinned) while her mother is “red” (darker skinned and thus of a lower social status). Clare isn't sure where she fits in. She feels closer to her father but is disturbed by his racist views. Clare knows that there is a distance in her relationship with her mother. It troubles her, particularly since she's not sure of its cause. Clare lives in the city but spends the summers in the country with her maternal grandmother. Her playmate is a country girl named Zoe. Clare wants to believe she and Zoe are lifelong friends. She's either naïve or willfully blind to the social inequalities that prevent their relationship from being a true friendship. One mistake changes everything in Clare's world.

The book is structured in disjointed narratives. Clare's story occupies the most space. However, there are also sections about her family history (both sides) and Jamaican history. The symbolism is a bit heavy-handed. Clare's father descends from a white slave owner, and they share his family name, Savage. Clare's mother comes from a poor family descended from slaves; her family name is Freeman. The introductory notes explain that “abeng” is an African word for “conch shell”, and that it was used by the Maroons to reach one another. Throughout the novel Clare is trying to figure out how to connect with others, particularly other women such as her mother and her friend Zoe. The book's themes include Jamaican history, colonialism, adolescence, race, family relationships, friendship, feminism, and sexuality, including an undercurrent of lesbian attraction. ( )
  cbl_tn | Jan 24, 2013 |
This book is a prequel to No Telephone in Heaven which I have not read. It's a coming of age novel about Clare Savage. I found this to be an interesting look into Jamaican culture. Parts of the story are in the present; parts detail aspects of the island's history and information on prior generations of the Savage family (and other island families). I enjoyed reading about the differences in worship of various island groups when that aspect of the island's culture was featured. Exploration of race issues, particular black, white, and mulatto, were explored. I felt that there were some "unfinished" aspects of the novel, but this is probably due to its prequel nature. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jan 6, 2010 |
I love this author and have read all her books. She is one of the few white Caribbean authors who engages head on with the complexities of race in the Caribbean. This book uses Jamaican mythology and spirituality. Powerful stuff. ( )
  campbellx | Apr 27, 2008 |
Need to reread this one since I zipped through it for a class in college.
( )
1 vote | ohjanet | Apr 17, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0452274834, Paperback)

Ever since Abeng was first published in 1984, Michelle Cliff has steadily become a literary force. Her novels evoke both the clearly delineated hierarchies of colonial Jamaica and the subtleties of present-day island life. Nowhere is her power felt more than in Clare Savage, her Jamaican heroine, who appeared, already grown, in No Telephone to Heaven. Abeng is a kind of prequel to that highly-acclaimed novel and is a small masterpiece in its own right. Here Clare is twelve years old, the light-skinned daughter of a middle-class family, growing up among the complex contradictions of class versus color, blood versus history, harsh reality versus delusion, in a colonized country. In language that surrounds us with a richness of meaning and voices, the several strands of young Clare's heritage are explored: the Maroons, who used the conch shell—the abeng—to pass messages as they fought a guerilla struggle against their English enslavers; and the legacy of Clare's white great-great-grandfater, Judge Savage, who burned his hundred slaves on the eve of their emancipation. A lyrical, explosive coming-of-age story combined with a provocative retelling of the colonial history of Jamaica, this novel is a triumph.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:42 -0400)

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