Book review for Homestretch
Homestretch is a Caribbean novel by Velma Pollard, a Jamaican poet and fictional writer. The novel explores lives of native Jamaicans who come back to their home country after living abroad for years. It documents their experiences while comparing how they live in the Diaspora with how they live when they get back to Jamaica. Velma uses patwa, an English based language with influences from native languages in West and Central Africa in the book to help identify with Jamaicans whom the book is about. In the novel the author explores so many themes during her narration as discussed below.
One is the theme of alienation. This is depicted in the way one of the characters Brenda finds it hard to blend into the Jamaican culture after being in the Diaspora for long. After visiting Jamaica for 3 months Brenda writes a letter to Laura in which she says, “At the risk of sounding corny, I want to thank you for giving me Jamaica… It was you that started me off trying to examine myself.” (Darlene, 2001, p. 88) When she came back home from the West and she was viewed as an outsider even though she is a Jamaican native. She feels as though Laura introduced Jamaica to her a new.
She also explores home as a theme. In her narration she explains how the immigrants love and enjoy being home by juxtaposing life in the Diaspora and at home. “I don’t know if the water can cure all the things they say it cures but it’s good for me,” (Velma, 1994, p. 15) David tells Charlie after taking a bath in the Milky River one believed to cure a variety of illnesses. When David gets back to Jamaica from England he is suffering from paralysis after having a stroke but once he settles back home he gets comfortable and starts to feel well again. He believes that water from the river would help his sickness.
The novel also brings to light the concept of patriotism by highlighting the kind of love the Jamaicans have for their country and how they continue to foster it. Laura invites Brenda for the get together on the Sunday of Heritage week and the narrator notes that; “It was an unusual production. Ancient items of Jamaican cuisine, some hardly remembered, were represented- dukunoo, gizada, puddings of every sort. Brenda recognised the smells and flavours from her childhood.” (Darlene, 2001, p. 85) Even though Brenda had been away for a while she was able to connect with her homeland. Such events bring Jamaicans together and foster their love for their country.
Velma brings out the theme of betrayal and disillusionment by presenting the hard realities that Jamaicans face once they move from home. When David and Edith get to Europe they note that, “England had looked good from afar.” (Velma, 1994, p. 30)They discover the harsh reality of how hard it is to get a job as a migrant and even adjusting to very different weather that they are not accustomed to.
Homestretch also explores the theme of education. It explains in detail the Jamaicans value for education and how they believed that education was the only way to make their lives better. “She felt a little sad that she was leaving her mother and her grandmother but she felt privileged she was going to be up,” (Velma, 1994, p. 55)the narration explains about Brenda’s excitement as she waited for her visa to America to get a proper college to further her studies.
The novel also looks at neglect as a theme. When David and Edith go back to Jamaica, they find a lot has changed. The roads, the shopping centre and even the church is in ruins. Laura even says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the telegram arrived after I had come and gone.” (Velma, 1994, p.44) This shows the deplorable situation due to neglect by those in authority.
Homestretch showcases communism as a theme by showing how tightly knit the Jamaican society is. When David and Edith came back home and worked with Laura to organize the get together on the Sunday of Heritage week the book explains that, “Laura had done an excellent job of digging relatives and friends from the woodwork. She and David and Edith were occupied full time greeting and hugging them… Over sixties who hadn’t had a chance to call on David and Edith since their return, people in their twenties and thirties, Laura’s friends and relatives, children and grand children…” (Darlene, 2001, p. 69) When Edith and David got back home the whole community rallied to welcome them back.
The novel also explores racial prejudice as a theme. When the Jamaicans leave their country they expect to be received with warm hearts in the countries they go to but that is not the case. “He couldn’t believe the speeches they were making because he was retiring. Most of them thought he was too proud for a black bastard anyway. Never asked them a favour,” (Velma, 1994, p. 30-31) explains the narration. This shows how much of intolerance the Jamaicans faced as foreigners. Despite having the expertise they were still just judged based on their skin colour.
Finally, the author puts forward the theme of unification. “Laura had been in charge of their buying of a town house in Kingston…” (Darlene, 2001, p. 74)As much as she tries to compare and contrast life in Jamaica and life in the West she also gives the reader an example of Laura David’s surrogate daughter who lived in the United Kingdom but also comes home, easily reintegrates, settles and welcomes David and Edith like they were new to their own country in Jamaica to show that it is possible for migrants to stay in their host nation and become successful and still get back to their home countries and blend well in their countries.
In conclusion, Homestretch looks at all facets of life of the Jamaican people from when they are home, when they migrate to other countries and even when they return to their home country. It shows in totality how moving away from and back home impacts both the citizens of a country and the country itself in terms of development.
Pollard, V. (1994). Homestretch. Harlow: Longman.
Schulenburg, D. (2001) Identity and Dislocation in Caribbean Women’s Literature: A
study of the writings of Velma Pollard. Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education.