PEN/Hemingway Award For Debut Novel Finalist
Shortlisted for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A “rich, ambitious debut novel” (The New York Times Book Review) that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations, in the tradition of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
Stanford Solomon’s shocking, thirty-year-old secret is about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford has done something no one could ever imagine. He is a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley.
And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead.
These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem. There is Vera, whose widowhood forced her into the role of a single mother. There are two daughters and a granddaughter who have never known they are related. And there are others, like the houseboy who loved Vera, whose lives might have taken different courses if not for Abel Paisley’s actions.
This “rich and layered story” (Kirkus Reviews) explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is a “beguiling…vividly drawn, and compelling” (BookPage, starred review) portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Maisy Card’s debut is a mesmerizing depiction of the mess many of us inherit along with our DNA. These Ghosts Are Family picks through the tangled stories of several generations of the Paisley family, whose roots are in Jamaica and New York. Card alternates between first, second, and third person to paint a 360-degree portrait of the various Paisleys’ struggles to wrestle with ghosts from their past as well as present-day demons. Her stunning novel explores Jamaican history, the devastations of colonialism, addiction, and adultery, and the reality that one individual’s bad choices can create craziness for generations to come. We loved Card’s bold, creative voice and the way her story linked the dead and the living, reminding us of our deep connection to those who came before us.
Card's profound, assured debut explores Jamaican colonial history to uncover a family's painful past. Spanning two centuries and eight generations of the Paisley family, the narrative begins in 2005 with Stanford Solomon, a Jamaican immigrant to the United States who was once known as Abel Paisley before faking his own death 35 years earlier, assuming his dead friend's identity, and estranging himself from his family. After Stanford finally reaches out to his daughter, Irene, a 37-year-old home health aide in New York City, to confess that he's been alive all this time, her late mother, Vera, a ghost who spent decades without knowing what happened to her husband, notes that "death is just one long therapy session." Meanwhile, Stanford's daughter by a second marriage, Estelle Solomon, struggles with heroin addiction and grief that she cannot support her 18-year-old daughter. As Card traces the family's roots back through Jamaica's history under British rule and enslavement, literal and figurative ghosts animate the novel, and a wrenching description of the violent 1831 Christmas Rebellion and its aftermath reveals that Stanford was not the first of the Paisleys to rewrite the history of their lineage. Through a fluid blend of patois and erudite descriptions of Jamaica, Card offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of a troubled but resilient family whose struggles are inscribed by the island they once called home. This masterful chronicle haunts like the work of Marlon James and hits just as hard.
I got the audiobook. The narrator was excellent just the right amount of Jamaican accent for anyone to understand.West Indians will love this piece.