Banjo: A Novel

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A Year in Reading: Nadifa Mohamed


The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon is a charm against the wet, binding cold of a British winter. Written in 1956 and set in the London of the first wave of post-war immigrants from the West Indies, it captures perfectly the blossoming of life that happens when the summer finally comes and “London really be hearts.” The characters hang out in Hyde Park late into the night, both on the prowl and prowled upon; Selvon’s gaze includes all the things that wouldn’t have made it into the migrants’ letters home. The rough, sometimes comic, sometimes disturbing, incidents are all described in the West Indian patois of the men allowing the distance between the observer and observed to fall beautifully away.

Banjo by Claude McKay is an even earlier novel that aims to show the unvarnished reality of black lives lived in European cities. Passing the narrative from sailor to storyteller to beach bum, McKay brings Somalia, Senegal, and the Deep South to the narrow rues of Marseille in the Jazz Age. The characters are pure adventurers who dare the world to throw all it can at them. Wonderful.

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