Levy’s latest novel begins in England where Faith Jackson, daughter of Jamaican immigrants, has just gotten a job in the costume department of the BBC and a flat with three roommates, two of whom are young men. Excited to be living away from home at last, Faith is comforted by the knowledge that her parents are still close by.
It is a shock, then, when Faith learns that her parents have been making plans to return to Jamaica since both their children are grown and on their own. Over the years, they have rarely shared family stories with the children, and neither Faith nor her brother, Carl, has imagined their parents anywhere but in England. Suddenly Faith is not quite so secure in her new life, anxious about the future.
At the time, England is struggling to marry the concept and practice of equality, citizens clinging to old prejudices and assumptions. All around her, a casual racism rears its ugly head, Faith subjected to the random ignorance of her white friends who carelessly disparage the blacks with hardly a thought to their friend’s reactions: “I knew he wasn’t prejudiced. He loves animals.”
The insensitive remarks grow increasingly irritating to Faith, who has so far isolated herself from the bitter truth. Gradually a rift widens between Faith and those she has thought of as friends. Furthering sundering the relative predictability of her life, Faith witnesses a random act of violence against a black woman innocently clerking at a bookstore. Immediately following this harrowing experience, Faith is forced to question the motivations behind her recent promotion to dresser at the BBC, a position where formerly no blacks have been hired.
Overwhelmed by reality and feeling betrayed on all sides, Faith withdraws from everything - her job, her friends and family - unable to contend with the demands of the world she views as hostile: “I didn’t want to be black anymore. I just wanted to live.” Thanks to her parents’ wisdom, Faith is sent to Jamaica for a two-week visit, submerged in the riotous island culture with her Auntie Coral and Cousin Vincent.
In the lush island surroundings, Faith receives a much-needed introduction to family history. Auntie Coral discloses the secrets of the family tree, whispering of romantic liaisons and children born out of wedlock, “but don’t tell your mother I told you.”
Immersed in this intimate setting, Faith achieves the necessary balance to navigate a world at war with its own worst impulses to separate and subjugate, assuming a new identity forged from a rich heritage, those who have come before her, peopling the island with their children and their dreams.
Levy’s dialog is spot on, both the sharp English quips of Faith’s roommates and the lilting patois of the Jamaicans. Tackling the inevitable challenges of her life as a black woman, the questing Faith weathers an identity crisis and racial awakening, renewed by the roots of ancestry.