Book Review: "Moses Ascending" by Sam Selvon
3/5 - An engaging look at the underground lifestyle of the great minorities...
Sam Selvon's works is always pretty great and the first book I ever read by him was "The Lonely Londoners" when I was in my first year of my undergraduate degree. But truthfully, his books dropped off my radar until now when I discovered this number - "Moses Ascending". Here's the story without spoilers: a Black-British man is a landlord and goes to meet his tenants who are also Black and British. What he finds there is not just a normal tenancy, this is not "Tenants of Moonbloom" sh- instead, this is a microcosm for a revolution. Power politics, freedom speeches, gatherings, migrants and Black Panthers gather in the rooms that this landlord owns and each and every one of them has a plan to break the narrative against them.
When I read this book the one thing I noticed was that it was a bit short and I would have honestly loved a bit more about the personalities of these people and their backgrounds. I find that most of the book concentrated on the wrong things and therefore, it leaves the reader a bit unfulfilled. This is something I found a bit out of character for Sam Selvon since "The Lonely Londoners" was so damn satisfying to read and read again. But, I have to admit that Sam Selvon's writing style is absolutely polished brilliance of a fusion of dialect and culture. It is deeper than just the words themselves, far deeper. Let's have a look at some of them:
"What a change it was to go and put up notices of vacancies on the hoardings, instead of reading them myself to find a place to live! And I record with pride that I wasn't one of them prejudiced landlord what put 'No Kolors' on their notices. Come one, come all, first come, first served, was my mottos. It was also my policy to avoid any petty restrictions for the tenants who was giving me my bread. Live and let live was another motto, as long as every Friday-pleas-God they shell over their respective rents, and didn't grumble too much about leaks and cracks and other symptoms of dilapidation which infested the house..."
It is a brilliant package of culture, racial politics, life achievements, personality and a hell of a lot of story and character. The quotation we just saw is early on in the book and so, you know that the rest of it is promising. Let us take a look at another one:
"Sometimes in the winter when the alarm go and you get up and look through the window to see the weather conditions and you can't see nothing, only smog and frost out there, and the sky so grey and gloomy it look as if it join-up with the earth and make one, you does wonder what crime this country commit that it have to punish so with this evil weather. It is not the alarm what really wake you up: it is cold in your arse. The alarms of all the black people in Britain are timed to ring before the rest of the population. It is their destiny to be up and about at the crack of dawn. In these days of pollution and environment, he is very lucky, for he can breath the freshest air of the new day before anybody else..."
There are some really incredible, descriptive and immersive quotations about the Black British experience that honestly, I think are some of the best quotations of their kind in most of the literature of its contemporary era. Let's take a look at another quotation in which we can see even more of Sam Selvon's great writing craft skill:
"Strangers to London - even bona fide Londoners too - have been heard to remark that they can't see the hordes of black faces what supposed to clutter the vast metropolis. Ah, but at what time of the day do they make this observation? If they had to get their arses out of a warm bed in the wee hours, if they had to come out of cost flat and centrally heated hallways to face the onslaught of an icy north wind and trudge through the sludge and grime of a snow-trampled pavement, they would encounter black man and woman by the thousands..."
This quotation and the rest of the book shows something about the racial tensions; they are not just tensions at all, it is not just a battle for rights but it is a battle against ignorance, a battle against being ignored and pushed aside, being told that you do not or should not exist. It is a glowing account of one of the most turbulent times in the last century of British Race Relations.