What do we mean by 'English'? How does that image square with reality? How does our island look from abroad, and what aspects of our experience do we share with, for example, America - a nation built by outsiders and the huddled masses?
Taking as its starting point a moving recollection of growing up in Leeds during the 1970s, Colour Me English broadens into a reflective, entertaining and challenging collection of essays and other non-fiction writing which ranges from the literary to the cultural and autobiographical.
Elsewhere, Caryl Phillips goes on to describe the experience of living and working in America, and travels in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Belgium and France and beyond. He considers the lives and works of many figures including Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Billie Holiday and Luther Vandross, and how their experiences are refracted through the prisms of writing, music and cinema.
But Colour Me English always circles back to questions of identity and belonging, to the nature of tribal belonging and of its reverse, exclusion.
A polymorphous delight that always retains at its core the notion of identity... Phillips places himself in the tradition of James Baldwin, Chinua Achebe and Ha Jin as a writer who, by moving abroad, has gained perspective on his homeland. And it is a perspective we would do well to learn from
An informal intellectual memoir... The question of belonging and exclusion suffuses his work, colouring his personal engagement with history, religion, literature, music and nationality. It has been the making of him
A thought-provoking collection by an accomplished author whose subtle, unobtrusive style allows him to explore familiar subjects in an original way
As lucid and urgently written as these meditations are, the main attractions in Colour Me English are the character sketches of other writers... Phillips passionately defends the capacity of fiction to shepherd us through these times of social change, by forcing us 'to engage with a world that is clumsily transforming itself'
I was utterly beguiled by his original outlook on literature, life, race and 'belonging'