There’s nothing left to say other than Nicole Dennis-Benn has done it again with her new novel Patsy. Beautiful and disturbing brilliance is how I’d describe the new novel that came out on June 4th, from Liveright Publishing.
I must say thank you to Liveright and Nicole Dennis-Benn for providing me with an ARC of this book for my honest opinion, and here it is…
Set on the backdrop of Jamaica and New York City, Patsy is an unforgivable tale of trials, tribulations and the American dream versus the immigrant reality.
When Jamaican, single mother Patsy finally gets her visa to America she leaves her daughter Tru and mother behind, in search of a better life and an opportunity to reunite with her one-time friend/lover, Cicely.
She boards a plane with high hopes and expectations, unfazed that she is leaving her small daughter in the care of a father, who has never been a part of her life and is married with a family and other children of his own.
Furthermore he never truly wants Tru. When Patsy initially asks Tru’s father to take her he says “Ah will talk to Marva (his wife) to see if she’ll be all right wid taking on yuh responsibility.” Wow, he doesn’t say our responsibility, but yours. That one line is so telling about the thinking and rationale of Jamaican society. Children are still seen as the responsibility of the woman, that dates back to the time of slavery where men were not expected to care for children.
And while my heart aches for Tru, I also sympathize with Patsy, who never really wanted the child to begin with and was forced by her mother to keep the baby when she became pregnant.
“SHE WAS FORBIDDEN TO HAVE AN ABORTION, THREATENED BY HER mother to be thrown in jail since it is illegal in Jamaica and deemed an abomination by the Church. It was unheard-of for a woman to willingly end a pregnancy.” (page 45)
In Jamaica, like in several states in the US, abortion is illegal and a woman and the doctor can be put in jail for it.
As Patsy arrives in the US she learns that things are not quite what they seem and she is faced with some difficult situations and some truly ugly truths. Jobs and careers are practically impossible to get without a visa, and compromise is the only true way to survive.
As a person of Jamaican descent, Patsy’s story is the story of many immigrants and people I know. Often a visa is seen as a ‘golden ticket’ to a land flowing with milk and honey. Immigrants believe life will be easier, and jobs are plentiful but more often than not, the reality of the situation is quite hard to bear, such is the case with Patsy.
What I love most about this book is that it makes you stop and think about ‘what would I do?’ While I cannot ever imagine leaving my children for more than a few nights, I also don’t know what it feels like to live in a place like Pennyfield, to live in a place like Jamaica where having the wrong area code or the wrong shade of skin can be the deciding factor of success. “Her place in society was already established by her skin color and wrong address,” says Patsy.
Patsy is an all-encompassing story about immigration, heartache, motherhood, and expectations versus reality. The characters are plagued with compromise and tormented by their own pain, desires and the expectations of society.
While Patsy attempts to make a life for herself in New York her daughter Tru is left to in the care of her father and his wife and questions her own identity and self-worth.
There was so much I loved about this book, but so much that also made me uncomfortable. Nicole Dennis-Benn’s writing is flawless and her use of patois brought a familiar warmth to the story for me.
The book makes us question female sexuality, the system of immigration and how it’s designed and most importantly the role and weight of motherhood and identity.
What this book did most for me was truly take a look at my own privilege, being a daughter of Jamaican immigrants. My father, in particular, has told me before how difficult coming to Canada was, and I look at my parents with a new renewed sense of pride.
I could truly go on forever about this book because I feel this just merely scratched the surface but I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that Patsy is an eye-opening book about so many issues that plague Jamaicans around the world.
I timely, touching and a profoundly true book about immigration, race, motherhood, and hope.
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