Lead Review (River Sing Me Home)
- Book: River Sing Me Home
- Location: Caribbean
- Author: Eleanor Shearer
River Sing Me Home is a very thoughtful and powerful debut novel from Eleanor Shearer. It is, in fact, a brilliant book. Rachel is a slave working on a sugar cane plantation in Northern Barbados in the early 1830s. She has several still births and five living children. Each of the five was taken from her and sold at various stages of their childhood. This was, we are told, absolutely standard procedure. Humans were treated as animals. Eventually Rachel flips and takes the extraordinarily dangerous decision to break out of the plantation and search for her children wherever they may be. Extraordinarily dangerous because she will be pursued by armed overseers who will seek to kill her or recapture her (with the promise of beatings, rape or worse) as a deterrent to others. She runs and runs until eventually she is befriended by Mama B on the far side of the island. Mama B helps her to set off on her search by taking her to Bridgetown – a ‘safe’ place for escaping slaves, where they had a better chance there of being absorbed into the mass of the population.
She moves on in her search for her daughters and sons. Intelligence and rumours of sightings are many. She follows a trail that leads to Demerara (now part of Guyana on the South American coast) and then on the British Guiana and finally Trinidad – all the time with hope in her heart that the children will be found.
River Sing Me Home is a remarkable and quite beautifully written book. On one level it is a profound, and very depressing, look at the lives of slaves transported from Africa to the plantations of the Caribbean. The working conditions and violence they endured were quite horrific. It was a very grim period in the history of mankind. On another level it is a very uplifting story that focuses on the love, strength and courage of a woman seeking to reunite her family. The hardships she endures are nothing to what she seeks to achieve, Rachel is a very strong and very determined woman.
The author, Eleanor Shearer, is herself the granddaughter of a couple who came to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation. The story of Rachel is for her very personal.
Very highly recommended.