Fay Wong is a woman caught between worlds. Her father is a Chinese immigrant who conjured a fortune out of nothing; her mother, of African heritage, grew up on a plantation and now reigns over their mansion on Lady Musgrave Road, sipping Earl Grey tea in the Kingston afternoons.
But the Chinatown haunts where her father spends his time are out of bounds to Fay, and the rooms of Lady Musgrave Road are filled with her mother’s long-kept secrets and uncontrollable rages-rages against which Fay rebels as she grows from a girl into a headstrong woman.
As she tries to escape the restraints of her privileged upbringing, striving for independence in a homeland that is trying to do the same, Fay’s eyes are opened to a Jamaica she was never meant to see. She encounters gangsters and revolutionaries, priests and prostitutes, and witnesses great sacrifices and betrayals. But when her mother decides that she must marry the racketeer Yang Pao, she finds herself on a journey that leads to sacrifices and betrayals of her own. In Show Me A Mountain, Kerry Young creates a vivid portrait of a woman and a country struggling to fashion a future unburdened by the past.
Thoughts : Show Me A Mountain is the third in a series of books by Kerry Young, the other two being Pao and Gloria. Despite being a part of a series this is a standalone and can be read without having read the other two, which is how I read it.
The story follows Fay Wong, the firstborn child of a Chinese businessman and an African homemaker. Growing up in the “rich” part of town one would expect that she had the perfect childhood but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fay is beaten, stripped naked, starved and verbally abused as well by her mother who can never be satisfied by what Fay is. Bi racial, but too black. Half Chinese, but too white and all in all too much of nothing good to be worthy of her mother’s civility and courtesy.
Her feelings of not belonging escalate to the point that she chooses to stay out of her house at school rather than come back home to the hell her mother rains on her. Life is difficult till she meets a kindred spirit, Beverly Chung, another biracial girl who makes her realise that they are the only two alike. They become fast friends and her life changes, for the better. Although some might say for the worse.
Set in Jamaica in the midst of a political story, Show me a mountain is story about a girl who feels guilty and ashamed about the privilege she was born into (though why I will never understand) and does things to “make up” for it. And how, instead of making things better for the country, she makes things worse for herself and in the end, has to cone to term with the fact that one biracial rich girl who doesn’t belong isn’t really going to be able to make a difference anywhere.
As you read the book with only Fay’s POV you realise somewhere in the middle that it isn’t as reliable a narration as we might expect. As it is in life so it is in this book, you can never truly believe one side of any story and slowly your feelings turn from being sympathetic towards Fay to viewing her for what she truly is. A naïve girl fumbling her way through life and walking into the lion’s den to get away from arguments with her mother.
The writing style is simple and easy to get on with, alternating between Jamaican dialogue and a “Queen’s English” that Fay’s mother favours and the characters filled with a realistic depth that I really enjoyed. You notice how each person has a good side and a bad side, how their actions are both questionable and justifiable and you leave the book feeling utterly satiated.
I rated this 4.5 stars. The book brought me to tears several times, and stressed me out, enraged me and did everything a good book is supposed to do. I absolutely adored Kerry Young’s writing style and I’m rather upset that I haven’t read her books before this! Well, better late than never. I’ll be grabbing her other books as soon as I possibly can.
*Thank you to Bloomsbury India who very kindly provided me a copy to review. Opinions expressed are my own.