Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Lonely Londoners

I just read The Lonely Londoners, by Sam Selvon, because I'm slowly making the way through the books on EC Osondu's list that was in the Guardian, his "top 10 immigrants' tales." I was briefly at Syracuse with Osondu, and his recent collection, Voice of America, was awesome. I blogged about it here back in December.

So thank you, EC, for letting me know about this book. I don't know how I would've run across it otherwise, and I'm so glad I read it.

The Lonely Londoners is written all in what I guess you'd call patois--a vernacular English spoken by the West Indians in the book and used for the narration as well. In Kenneth Ramchand's introduction to the version I read, the Wegman Carribbean Writers edition published by Pearson Education Limited, Ramchand describes Selvon's language this way: "The language of The Lonely Londoners is not the language of one stratum in the society, not the language of the people meaning 'the folk' or the peasantry, but a careful fabrication, a modified dialect which contains and expresses the sensibility of a whole society." The book has a fabulous rhythm to it and I read maybe more for the language than for the plot. There is a loose plot, but the story revolves around the experiences and routines of a group of friends in London, somewhat centered on Moses Aloetta, but mostly using him as the common thread. You get a sense of how far from home these guys are, mostly probably permanently; how they feel about those homes they've left; how they feel about what their lives in London are, and what their lives might have the potential to become; and what their daily lives and their interactions with each other are like.

I'm not doing a very good job of summarizing this. It's the stories of a bunch of immigrants, woven together and overlapping hugely.

A couple passages I really liked:
Things does have a way of fixing themselves, whether you worry or not. If you hustle, it will happen, if you don't hustle, it will still happen. Everybody living to dead, no matter what they doing while they living, in the end everybody dead.
What it is that a city have, that any place in the world have, that you get so much to like it you wouldn't leave it for anywhere else? What it is that would keep men although by and large, in truth and in face, they catching their royal to make a living, staying in a cramp-up room where you have to do everything--sleep, eat, dress, wash, cook, live. Why it is, that although they grumble about it all the time, curse the people, curse the government, say all kind of thing about this and that, why it is, that in the end, everyone cagey about saying outright that if the chance come they will go back to them green islands in the sun?

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