An immigrant story with a Jamaican lilt

“Ginga’ Root Tea: An American Journey,” by Naomi Pringle. Book–broker of Port Charlotte. 292 pages. $15.00.

Ordinarily, I would not consider a book for review with a copyright date two years past brought out by an unknown publisher. However, in this case I’m happy to have taken a very pleasant, enlightening journey into the lives of a Jamaican family who came, in fits and starts, to a new life in the United States. Ms. Pringle offers this fictionalized version of her family’s journey with an eye for historical accuracy, compelling drama, enticing romance, and valuable cultural insights. Her key characters, Isabel Hanson Buckley and her husband, Walter Buckley, are drawn with precision and a rich complexity. The author’s evocative prose, especially the dialogue, embraces the cultural milieu like a musical score. 

Naomi Pringle

In describing the Jamaican world of the Hanson and Buckley families, Ms. Pringle simultaneously offers readers a view of the island nation as it existed in the first two decades of the twentieth century. She attends to the daily life of Jamaicans at that time – a time when modern conveniences were not even imagined. Widower Walter Buckley, a prosperous Kingston entrepreneur, is more or less the city slicker, while young Isabel Hanson, from the tiny village of Rose Hall, is imaged at first as the beautiful country bumpkin.

However, as their courtship, marriage, and the general course of their lives develops, they seem to change places more than once – the dynamics of their relationship hinging on changing tides of circumstance, personal need, and personal growth. The shifting tides of passion play a role as well.

Among the various circumstances of their lives, attitudes toward skin color and social class play a major part – both in Jamaica and in the United States, where the immigrant Jamaican’s relationship to American Negro society adds a new and powerful complication. The racial strands in the composition of Isabel and Walter produce four daughters in the main portion of the novel: two light-skinned, and two dark-skinned. Though no one is color blind, aspiring Isabel cannot find her way to closeness with her middle daughters – the two dark-skinned children who for several years were raised by Isabel’s parents while she and Walter were striving to “make it” in New York City.

To read the full review as it appears in the February 2, 2011 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 3 issues of the Naples and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Naomi Pringle

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