Beginning in Jamaica in 1968, this rich, evocative coming-of-age dazzler explores resilience, uprooting, and finding your place with tremendous vitality and grace.
Telling an absorbing, boldly honest story of resilience as it charts a girl’s life from rural Jamaica through her struggles to survive and thrive in London, Yvonne Bailey-Smith’s The Day I Fell Off My Island is a storytelling triumph. Shot-through with the stirring conviction that a person can come to control their own destiny, it’s told in elegant style, with perfectly-placed Jamaican patois making the story even richer.
It’s 1968 and 13-year-old Erna is living in the care of her loving Grandma Melba and Grandpa Sippa with her three younger half-siblings. Erna’s world revolves entirely around her family and remote Jamaican village, until her mother visits them ahead of making a big move to England. After she leaves, life settles until Erna’s siblings are taken to live in London by their father, a man Grandma Melba calls the “Ugly Satan Devil Man”, leaving Erna bereft.
After meeting her own father for the first time, Erna is also uprooted from her beloved island and finds England to be “an unfriendly, upside down world that made little sense.” In time though, despite racist attitudes initially curtailing her education, and despite enduring toxic masculinity and a traumatic home life, Erna begins to feel like she’s in control of her own destiny, echoing words of advice once said by her father: “Wi run things. Things nuh run wi”.
Alongside exploring the trauma of being uprooted, The Day I Fell Off My Island is also incisive on the complexities of returning home, such as when Erna feels she’s seen as a “jumped-up islander who had lived abroad and now thought I was better than everyone else”. But, while Erna’s sense of displacement is powerfully palpable, so too are her triumphs. What a stirring, beautifully-told story. I certainly won’t forget Erna in a hurry.
Jamaica, 1968: Erna Mullings’ life is near perfect, living in a remote village with her beloved grandparents. That is, until the day her three younger siblings are torn from the family home and taken to London to live with their biological father. Now, the world that Erna knows is set to change irrevocably.
A compelling coming-of-age novel based on the author’s own experiences, The Day I Fell Off My Island is engrossing, courageous and psychologically insightful. Uniquely it bears witness to life Erna’s life in Jamaica as well as her new life in London.
Yvonne Bailey-Smith writes with great warmth and humanity about reluctant immigration and the relationship between children and the people who parent them. Hers is a story of estrangement, transition and, ultimately, the triumph of resilience and hope.
A psychotherapist and former social worker, she explains:
‘As an immigrant child, I often wished that someone had been able to take me aside and explain to me that leaving everything I knew to go on a so-called adventure to somewhere way beyond my imagination was going to cause me an unimaginable sense of loss and sadness. I also wish that the same person had been there to reassure me that I would survive and even flourish, given half a chance.’
|Publication date:||17th March 2022|
|Primary Genre||Literary Fiction|
‘A striking story with an unforgettable cast of characters you’d expect to find in the grandest work of fiction.’ CANDICE CARTY-WILLIAMS