Author: Kerry Young
It is difficult to place Kerry Young’s new novel Gloria into any particular slot. It’s written so smoothly, so easily, that you just sail through the book. Which somehow makes you think it’s of little consequence: an okay one-time read, but nothing more. Yet, it tells of so much that you can’t get bits of it out of your head. They aren’t exactly haunting — they will flee your memory in a few days — but for the moment, they give you something to think about.
Set in Jamaica, the book is narrated by a woman named Gloria and is about what she makes of her life. Nothing is easy when the novel commences in 1938: though slavery has been abolished in Jamaica, the society makes women, particularly women from poorer homes whose first need is to survive, mental slaves. Men see women only from one perspective — as objects of exploitation, sexual and otherwise. Women can’t see themselves differently either, so they remain trapped.
For Gloria, though, life takes strange turns. At 16, she runs away from her village to Kingston, capital of Jamaica, with her younger sister Marcia, after she kills a man who was about to rape Marcia — the same man who raped Gloria a few years ago. In Kingston, she endures the same kind of sexual exploitation as she did in her village, till two things happen. First, she meets a Chinese businessman who rescues her from molesters and then, for no reason Gloria can fathom, appoints himself her purely platonic mentor. Next, she meets a couple of women who live in complete freedom from fear and money woes because they decided to exploit the exploiters: they are prostitutes. After a bit, Gloria joins them and develops a funny sort of feeling for Yang Pao, head of the Chinese protection racket that takes care of Gloria’s whore-house.
And then life carries on, taking Gloria through the freedom movement in Jamaica, the need to do something to change the lives and circumstances of Jamaican women, a love affair that may have lasted for life but could not, and all sorts of twists, turns, happiness and woes. Then finally, she confronts the one, the only demon to still have her as its slave, and emerges a strong and fine woman, not only in other people’s eyes, but in her own.
Gloria has all the potential in the world to be a powerful novel, but somehow it’s not. It’s much too simplistic to be that book: the one with the potential to change your life. Read it if it happens to come to you, not if you have to buy it.
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