Book review: Augustown

KEI MILLER’s third novel invites us to Jamaica in 1982, to a poor suburb of Kingston called Augustown — which, the 2014 Forward poetry prize-winner assures in the preface, is a fictionalised version of t August Town. 

Kei Miller

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99;

ebook, £6.99

In Augustown, an almost blind Rastafarian grandmother, Ma Taffy, can sense disaster looming as her distressed grandson returns from school.

To soothe him, she speaks of the ‘flying preacherman’: A 19th century revivalist called Alexander Bedford, who claimed to be able to fly. 

But the events of this single day entwine around Ma Taffy’s family as conflicts between religious prejudice, social hierarchy, and the oppression of the poor by ‘Babylon’ build to a head.

Writing in Jamaican dialect gives Miller’s rich prose the ebb and swell of verbal folk tales, but he harmonises his fundamentally simple story with relevant events that echo down the decades. 

It’s a brilliant, textured read with the horrifying inevitability of a classical tragedy, but you can’t stop before the end.


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