It has always surprised me that there aren’t more stories written about Africville, and I was thrilled when an invitation to the launch of Stephens Gerard Malone’s new novel, Big Town: A Novel of Africville appeared in my inbox. (Even more so as it was my first “official” invite to a book launch.)
Despite the title, I would describe Big Town as a story of friendship more than a story of Africville. The central friendship between the dim-witted Early Okander, sick and troubled Toby and tomboy Chub unfolds with the community and its destruction as a backdrop.
Narrated by Early, seventeen but with the mental age of seven or eight, Big Town is a story of three kids who just want to be kids, while the in the background, sex, drugs, politics and racism are threatening their world. It is worth noting that both Early and Chub live outside of Africville and are white, but spend much of their time in the community visiting Toby.
Telling the story through the eyes of children too young to fully comprehend what is happening to their community and why adds a unique perspective – though I am curious if it provides enough of the required information for someone who doesn’t know the history so well to follow along. It might, I haven’t asked anyone yet.
Big Town is a heart-warming story of friendship triumphing over adversity – one that might have benefited from a little less adversity (with a few exceptions, all the white people are bad, all the black people are good and the three kids suffer illness, abuse, rape, loneliness, self-mutilation and pretty much every imaginable heartbreak).
A great read, and an excellent gift idea for fans of local and/or historical fiction who will definitely want to add it to their collections.
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing (Sep 15 2011)
Note: I know, I know. I am way behind. I still have two more reviews of Giller nominated books to post. I’ve been travelling lots for work lately which I naively believed would give me more time to write. I’ll double up on review per week for the next while to get ’em all in.