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'I'm black, so you don't have to be,' Colin Grant's uncle Castus used to tell him. For Colin, born in Britain to Jamaican parents, things were supposed to be different. If he worked hard and became a doctor, he was told, his race would become invisible; he would shake off the burden he believed his parents' generation had carried. The reality turned out to be very different.
This is a memoir told through a series of intimate intergenerational portraits. We meet Grant's mother Ethlyn, disappointed by working-class life in Luton, who dreams of returning to Jamaica; his father Bageye, a small-time criminal with a violent temper; his sister Selma, who refashioned herself as an African princess; his great uncle Percy, estranged from his family through his own pride.
Each character we meet is navigating their own path. Each life informs Grant's own shifting sense of his identity. Collectively these stories build into poignant and insightful testimony of black British experience. Written the intrigue, nuance, beauty and wit of short stories, and with the veracity and painful revelation of memoir, I'M BLACK, SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE is a unforgettable exploration of family, identity, race and generational change.
© Colin Grant 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022
To celebrate the Vintage paperback edition of The Mermaid of Black Conch, we’ve gathered a list of just some of our favourite books by Caribbean authors.
The generation of Caribbean migrants who helped rebuild post-war Britain between 1948 and 1971 have been in the news repeatedly since a 2018 scandal which saw many of them wrongly deported. Here Sara Collins, the award-winning author of The Confessions of Frannie Langton, offers a reading list of books that help define their experience.