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Red Jacket

by Pamela Mordecai

The first novel from Jamaican-born poet, short-story writer, and scholar Pamela Mordecai is a deliberately paced, trenchant story of one woman’s coming of age on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Chris, and her difficult journey away from the security and familiarity of her loving home to find a place for herself in the wider world.

Red Jacket (Pamela Mordecai) coverBorn in 1960 to a girl who is not quite 13 years old, Grace is raised by the Carpenter family. The unspeakable circumstances of Grace’s conception remain a secret until later in her life, when she reunites with her birth mother. However, it is obvious to Grace and everyone else that she is different from her family. Her red hair, red skin, freckles, and grey eyes earn her the misplaced epithet “jacket” – a child born of an extramarital affair. In fact, the truth is far more sinister.

Grace’s prodigious intellect leads her to successfully pursue scholarship at its highest levels in North American universities. Along the way, she develops several important relationships and undergoes a number of disturbing events that cause her to seriously question her faith in “Papa God.” In the early 1980s, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic grips Africa, Grace decides to focus her studies on that continent’s non-governmental organizations striving to educate the populace.

Her work leads to a job with the World Health Organization and the fictional West African country of Mabuli, where she meets Father Jimmy Atule. If the cerebral Grace is the brain of this novel, Jimmy is its heart. A Jesuit priest troubled by the past, his vow of celibacy, and an unsettling gift of clairvoyance, Jimmy forms a lasting and transformative bond with Grace.

Despite being thematically heavy, Red Jacket is an accomplished, intelligent novel. It is to be savoured for its multiple layers of meaning and – especially – its richness of language.