In a searing multi-generational tale of a family, Maisy Card explores the depths of family, grief, trauma, slavery, love and so much more with These Ghosts Are Family.
The novel begins with Abel Paisley, a Jamaican immigrant who fakes his own death by taking on the name of his colleague Stanley Solomon who died by accident. He moves to New York with a new name, a new identity, abandoning his wife and two kids back in Jamaica. He starts over with a new wife and builds a new family.
But in his old age, he finally comes to terms with this deceit and decides to come clean by revealing what has haunted him. What unravels next are the stories of each family member connected to Abel, from his past to present, from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem.
Card shifts the perspective of the story from Abel to Vera, his wife back in Jamaica, who equally had troubles of her own. Then there’s Bernard, Vera’s help at the house who she took as her lover. At her death, Vera left everyone in shambles – most especially Bernard, who no one in her family acknowledged. Like the forlorn lover that he was, he vanishes after the funeral.
Then there were Vera’s two children Irene and Vincent, each with lives of their own, suddenly made more apparent by the passing of Vera. Irene has moved to New York where she worked for a home care agency, playing a role that she refuted every time the old woman she cared for had therapy. Then there was Vincent, who guides the museum intern Debbie after she discovers a book detailing her family’s sordid past and her ancestor’s plantation.
Back in Harold Town, the ghosts of three little girls continue to haunt the residents. The town, once the site of a plantation and home of Florence, the Paisley family’s ancestor, becomes the site of familial and emotional excavations.
The ripple effect of Abel Paisley’s lie, a secret that he kept for 35 years sets off a chain of events that could’ve been different for many of those affected. At the same time, each character wrestles with the ghost of their troubles whether real or illusory, whether material or in the psyche.
I was spending a weekend in the coast of California, in a cabin house in a community called Sea Ranch. Many times I fell asleep in the living room, and I would awaken each day before the sun came up. The house was surrounded by windows, and every movement I made was reflected on the surface, tiny light movements that scared me each time.
It was during this trip that I read and finished These Ghosts Are Family, and as I looked out towards the sea, the memory of Vera, Bernard, Irene, Abe and Florence lingered in my mind. How we create, make and remake families is at the core of this novel, something that transcends time and generations. This is the thread that reverberates, in the way that Card has masterfully woven the lives of the characters and the fortunes they were dealt with.
Light as ghosts, heavy in history. These Ghosts Are Family is definitely one of this year’s must-read novel.
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