Jonathan Escoffery

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If I Survive You (2022) 309 exemplar


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Is this a series of short stories linked to make a novel or a novel divided into short stories? Does it matter? No. Is it autobiographical? I don't know.

I am not a massive fan of short stories and so enjoyed the connectedness of these stories - all using the same characters and the on-going battles, some of which are started in the first and my favourite story, In Flux. Here Escoffery explores the question often shouted, presumably at him: What are you? Black? White? Puerto Rican? Hispanic? It's this desire of people to categorise and when you don't neatly fit any category it is hard. People don't say Jamaican-American as they would African-American and so even that isn't acceptable. The seven following stories then develop this theme and others such as parents having a favourite child leading to sibling rivalry, separation, no friends and a girlfriend whose parents don't approve of you.

Set mostly in Miami, there is a long-standing argument over their mother's house. Who gets it when she dies. The older, and favourite, son, Delano, says it will come to him by automatic right unless his younger brother, Trelawney, survives him. There is a lot of anger in this book as Trelawney is forced to take jobs such as cleaning toilets or serving drinks but when he starts to look on Craigslist for extra work the book becomes a little unbelievable - hired to hit a woman and give her a black eye, hired to watch two people having sex - maybe that sort of thing does happen when you are desperate. If all of this isn't enough, Hurricane Andrew hits the family and is almost the last straw until they discover the much-prized house is sinking.

It's a lesson in how racism, poverty and climatic events can undo a family and have them scrabbling for their existence and who they are.
… (mer)
allthegoodbooks | 11 andra recensioner | Jan 3, 2024 |
52. If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
reader: Torian Brackett
OPD: 2022
format: 8:01 audible audiobook (272-pages in hardcover)
acquired: September 13 listened: Sep 13-27
rating: 3½
genre/style: contemporary fiction theme: Booker 2023
locations: Miami and Jamaica
about the author: American author and professor of creative writing. He was born (~1980) in Houston to Jamaican immigrants and grew up in Miami.

I really enjoyed the opening section where he writes about growing up in South Florida as the son of Jamaican born parents. Not black, not white, not Puerto Rican or other Latino heritage, fictional Trelawney has trouble fitting in S. Florida's very inflexible cultural divisions. I'm older than Escoffery, but I grew up that 1980's S. Florida world too - ethnically diverse, with no mixing.

The book goes much softer after that. He seems to push to cover the impoverished experience in S. Florida, where it's a little weirder in its own way than elsewhere, a little hyper-showy and hyper-unethical. But the book does this with less complicated characters and some social-media-meme friendly plot points. So, overall ok.

… (mer)
2 rösta
dchaikin | 11 andra recensioner | Sep 30, 2023 |
Reason read: shared read for TIOLI, a Booker Long list book.
I didn't realize that this was going to be short stories. The stories are considered connected but at times it felt disjointed rather than connected. The main character is Trelawney and his family; Delano (older brother), mother, father. There is a story of Cukie and his father Ox. The setting is Miami and the time period is 70s to 90s. Trelawny was born in the US. He doesn't fit in to any clear box. He's not black, white and therefore he is unable to find his identity in the US. He is born here so he is not an immigrant.
I enjoyed the short stories but at times I found it disjointed. I don't think the book is so much about race but it is about identity and finding your tribe. Other themes included immigration and destruction.
… (mer)
Kristelh | 11 andra recensioner | Sep 19, 2023 |
*Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023*


If I Survive You by Jonathon Escoffery revolves around a Jamaican immigrant family who settles in Miami in the 1970s. Through a series of eight interconnected stories, we follow the family as they navigate their way through years of financial struggles, racism and poverty compounded by their struggles with acceptance, identity crisis, dysfunctional family dynamics, and turbulent relationships. The stories are told through the POVs of multiple members of the family, though a major part of the story is told from the perspective of Trelawny, the younger son of Topper and Sanya. Trelawny’s relationship with his father and brother, Delano is integral to how Trelawney approaches the major decisions in his life. The first story is told from Trelawny’s PoV and focuses on his identity crisis and his efforts to find a place for himself amongst his friends and peers.

“You’re a rather pale shade of brown, if skin color has anything to do with race. Your parents share your hue. As do their parents. Their parents, your great-grands, occupy your family’s photo albums in black-and-white and sepia tones that conceal the color of their skin. Some look like they might guest-appear on The Jeffersons, while others look like they’d sooner be cast on All in the Family.”

A question he is often asked is “What are you?” – a question that he is unable to convincingly answer. Not dark enough to be labeled Black, clearly neither Hispanic nor White, though he often does use this lack of clarity about his racial identity to his benefit in an effort to fit in with different peer groups in school, this is a question that follows him throughout his life.

Life is not easy for Trelawny as he struggles to find a place for himself in the world and deal with conflicting expectations from his family, mostly his father who tries to preserve and imbibe as much of the values of his ethnic culture and habits of his home country as possible in his sons. As Topper reflects on his younger son, “In spite of him name, Trelawny grow up strange. Foreign. You blame the nursery school teachers where you and Sanya leave him when you go work each morning, where you bring him from him turn six months old.”

Trelawny struggles with his relationship with his family and with romantic relationships. Not only does he find it difficult to secure meaningful employment despite being a college graduate and is unable to settle in a career that would be fulfilling but also struggles to find a sense of belongingness among his family , peers and society in general. He finds himself alone most of the time, making questionable choices, often not quite learning from his mistakes. The author also gives us insight into what motivates Sanya, Delano and Topper as they go their own way and what makes this a compelling read is that despite being a family, each of these characters has distinct trajectories that take them in different directions.

“It occurs to you that people like you—people who burn themselves up in pursuit of survival—rarely survive anyone or anything.”

Jonathan Escoffery’s writing is powerful and his themes are timely and relevant. I did have some trouble following the dialect in some parts of the story and while I enjoyed the honest and authentic depiction of the immigrant experience as told through the perspectives of a family, each of whom is strong, willful and motivated in their own way, I found it hard to emotionally connect with the characters. An immigrant myself, I understand and respect that the immigrant experience is different for different people. While parts of the narrative were impactful and resonated with me and others were more than a tad depressing (though the author attempts to balance the sad parts with some humor), I can’t say that I felt completely invested in the characters. However, this is an extremely well-written book that tackles themes of immigration, race and class with insight and honesty.
… (mer)
srms.reads | 11 andra recensioner | Sep 4, 2023 |



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