From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island
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From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island

by Lorna Goodison

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When Doris Harvey's English grandfather, William Harvey, discovers a clearing at the end of a path cut by the feet of those running from slavery, he gives his name to what will become his family's home for generations. For Doris, Harvey River is the place she always called home, the place where she was one of the "fabulous Harvey girls," and where the rich local


When Doris Harvey's English grandfather, William Harvey, discovers a clearing at the end of a path cut by the feet of those running from slavery, he gives his name to what will become his family's home for generations. For Doris, Harvey River is the place she always called home, the place where she was one of the "fabulous Harvey girls," and where the rich local bounty of Lucea yams, pimentos, and mangoes went hand in hand with the Victorian niceties of her parents' house. It is a place she will return to in dreams when her fortunes change, years later, and she and her husband, Marcus Goodison, relocate to "hard life" Kingston and encounter the harsh realities of urban living in close quarters.

In Lorna Goodison's luminous memoir of her forebears, we meet a cast of wonderfully drawn characters, including George O'Brian Wilson, the Irish patriarch of the family who marries a Guinea woman after coming to Jamaica in the mid-1800s; Doris's parents, Margaret and David, childhood sweethearts who become the first family of Harvey River; and Margaret and David's eight children.

In lush, vivid prose, textured with the cadences of Creole speech, Lorna Goodison weaves together memory and mythology to create a vivid tapestry. She takes us deep into the heart of a complete world to tell a universal story of family and the ties that bind us to the place we call home.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
“Being introduced to the cast of ‘From Harvey River’ is like sitting down at the family dining table. You’ll stay for the day then on into the evening as each new character pulls up a chair. You could not be in better company.”
New York Times Book Review Paperback Row
“[A] loving memoir.”
Lisa Fugard
Being introduced to the cast of From Harvey River is like sitting down at the family dining table. You'll stay for the day and then on into the evening as each new character pulls up a chair. You could not be in better company.
—The New York Times
Carolyn See
Goodison intermingles her more personal material with reverent and luminous memories of her mother and four aunts, the "Fabulous Harvey Girls," who hailed from the lovely little rural hamlet of Harvey River: young women who burned up the place with their beauty and pizazz—until they walked out of their youth in various directions, enduring the vicissitudes and challenges of the larger world, armed mostly with the etiquette and strong beliefs they had learned in their Eden-like childhood home…This is Goodison's tribute to her mother, but more than that, it is a window that opens onto a society that most of us will never know.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Goodison, an acclaimed poet who received Jamaica's Musgrave Gold Medal in 1999, makes lyrical exposition sing with dulcet island patois in this homage to her mother, Doris, who grew up in the sleepy Eden-like setting of Harvey River, but raised her own nine children in urban Kingston under less coddled conditions. Starting on a supernal note, in which Doris bequeaths this book to her daughter in a dream, the memoir draws a richly textured portrait of a sprawling, well-to-do family, including seven strong-willed siblings with deftly sketched personas. As "plump and pretty as a ripe ox-heart tomato," Doris-whose Anglo-African blood attests to Jamaica's history of interracial dalliance-joins her sisters in the clique of "fabulous Harvey girls," their surnames trumpeting the family's landed-gentry status. But it's a working-class chauffeur-the author's father-who wins Doris's hand in marriage. Borne away from her childhood idyll, she takes in her first moving picture, produces a succession of offspring and plies her domestic skills, especially sewing, gamely weathering the vicissitudes of life outside paradise. Steeped in local lore and spiced with infectious dialect and ditties, Goodison's memoir reaches back over generations to evoke the mythic power of childhood, the magnetic tug of home and the friction between desire and duty that gives life its unexpected jolts. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Family history in Jamaica provides the focus for this memoir as poet Goodison (Controlling the Silver ) traces the Harvey roots from the time her great-grandfather, Englishman William Harvey, discovered a well-traveled foot path adjacent to a river circa the last days of slavery. Harvey decides to settle on this land, naming the river after his family, and the plot becomes the family home for generations. Goodison, an award-winning poet and short story writer, tells of her family's fortunes from the early days of English settlement, especially those of her mother, Doris, and her seven siblings. Doris grew up in Victorian comfort as one of the "fabulous Harvey girls," only to experience difficult economic times when her husband, Marcus, loses his auto repair business, causing them to move with their nine children to the slums of Kingston. The appeal of this poetic memoir lies in Goodison's ability to weave Jamaican history and culture into her family saga, capturing the spiritual as well as the factual. Her language-clear, graceful, and at times humorous-enables the reader to see Jamaica through a new pair of eyes. Recommended for large public libraries.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Prizewinning poet Goodison (English/Univ. of Michigan; Goldengrove, 2006, etc.) pays tribute to her Jamaican heritage. Starting in the mid-19th century, when her English great-grandfather, William Harvey, established a homestead next to the mighty river that would eventually bear his name, the author doesn't so much trace events as animate the characters of her relatives who lived them. Readers seeking a detailed record of Jamaican history should look elsewhere, for Goodison unveils intimate worlds teeming with all the local flavor and poignancy of a Zora Neale Hurston novel. The five "fabulous Harvey girls" of her mother's generation spark her particular interest, she writes, and "the place that had produced my mother's people . . . was to shape my imagination for the rest of my life." Describing the Harvey River, her family's metaphorical life source, Goodison brings the memoir back to herself: "There are lost pearls and hopeless cases and the bones of runaway Africans down there as well as wedges of iron-hard brown soap which the women of Harvey River used to wash acres of clothes in this same river. As long as I swim in it, I will be borne to safety." Yet the story isn't really about her, except as the lucky offspring of people deeply, happily rooted in their family history. In a funny passage from the afterword to the U.S. edition, Goodison sends home a rapturous letter describing a breathtaking New York City sunset over the water, and her mother replies, "Who were the Hudsons that the river was named after?"A tender, thoughtful portrait of four generations, prompting hopes that the author's first full-length prose work won't be her last.

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Read an Excerpt

From Harvey River
A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island

Chapter One

The baby was plump and pretty as a ripe ox-heart tomato. Her mother, Margaret Wilson Harvey, gently squeezed the soft cheeks to open the tiny mouth and rubbed her little finger, which had been dipped in sugar, back and forth, over and under the small tongue to anoint the child with the gift of sweet speech. "Her name is Doris," she said to her husband, David.

In later years, my mother preferred to spell her name Dorice, although in actual fact she was christened Doris. But she was registered under a different name altogether—Clarabelle. This came about because of a disagreement between her parents as to what they should call their seventh child. Her father, David, was a romantic and a dreamer, a man who loved music and books, and an avid reader of lesser known nineteenth-century authors. He had read a story in which the heroine was called Clarabelle, and he found it to be a lovely and fitting name. He told his wife, Margaret, that that was to be the baby girl's name. Well, Margaret had her heart set on Doris, because it was the name of a school friend of hers, a real person, not some made-up somebody who lived in a book. Doris Louise, that was what the child would be called. They argued over it and after a while it became clear that Margaret was not going to let David best her this time. He had given their other children names like Cleodine, Albertha, Edmund, and Flavius. Lofty-sounding names which were rapidly hacked down to size by the blunt tongues of Hanover people. Cleo, Berta, Eddie, and Flavy. That was what remained of those names when Hanover people were finished with them.Margaret had managed to name her first-born son Howard, and her father had named Rose. Simple names for real people.

There was nobody who could be as stubborn and hard-headed as Margaret when she set her mind to something. She was determined that her baby was not going to be called Clarabelle. "Sound like a blasted cow name," she said. David gave up arguing with his wife about the business of naming the pretty-faced, chubby little girl, especially after Margaret reminded him graphically of who exactly had endured the necessary hard and bloody labour to bring the child into the world. He dutifully accompanied her to church and christened the baby Doris, on the last Sunday in June 1910. Then the next day he rode into the town of Lucea and registered the child as Clarabelle Louise Harvey, and he never told anyone about this deed for fifteen years. As a matter of fact, he is not known to have ever told anyone about it, because the family only found this out when my mother tried to sit for her first Jamaica Local Exams, for which she needed her birth certificate. When she went to the Registrar of Births and Deaths, they told her that there was no Doris Louise Harvey on record, but that there was a Clarabelle Louise Harvey born to David and Margaret Harvey, née Wilson, of Harvey River, Hanover. She burst into tears when she heard what her legal name was. "Clarabelle go to hell" her brothers chanted when the terrible truth was revealed. Not one to take teasing lightly, she told them to go to hell their damn selves.

Eventually her name was converted by deed poll to Doris. Thereafter, she signed her name Dorice, as if to distance herself from the whole Clarabelle/Doris business. Besides, Dorice, pronounced "Do-reese," conjured up images of a woman who was not ordinary; and to be ordinary, according to my mother's oldest sister, Cleodine, was just about the worst thing that a member of the Harvey family could be.

Cleodine was definitely not ordinary. She held the distinction of being the first child to be born alive to her parents, David and Margaret Harvey. She emerged into the world on January 6, 1896, as a tall, slender baby with a curious yellowish-alabaster complexion. The child Cleodine immediately opened her mouth and bellowed so loudly that the midwife nearly dropped her. Before her, not one of the five children conceived by Margaret had emerged from her body alive. Every one had turned back, manifesting themselves only as wrenching cramps, clotted blood, and deep disappointment.

This time around, her husband, David, had watched and prayed anxiously as Margaret's belly grew big with their sixth conception. Would this baby be the one to make it? Would it be the one to beat the curse of Margaret's seemingly inhospitable womb? The doctor had ordered her to bed the day it was confirmed that she was again pregnant, and once this happened, her mother, Leanna, had announced that she intended to mount upon her grey mule and gallop over to Harvey River each morning to take care of her daughter. Leanna forced her to lie still for most of the nine months, forbidding her to go outside, even to use the pit latrine. Instead she made her use a large porcelain chamber pot which she herself emptied. She bathed her daughter like a baby each morning and combed her long hair into two plaits, pinning them across her head in a coronet. She prepared nourishing invalid food and fed her steamed egg custards and cornmeal porridge boiled for hours into creaminess and sweetened with rich cow's milk. She made her thyme-fragrant pumpkin soup and fresh carrot juice, because Margaret's cravings were all for golden-coloured foods, which she ate sitting up in her big four-poster mahogany marriage bed. Another reason for feeding her these soft foods was that Margaret had become afraid that any abrupt, jarring movement might dislodge the foetus. She chewed upon these soft foods slowly and gently, and later, to occupy herself she sat propped up in bed quietly stitching and embroidering every imaginable type of garment, except for baby clothes.

From Harvey River
A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island
. Copyright (c) by Lorna Goodison . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Lorna Goodison is an internationally recognized poet who has published eight books of poetry and two collections of short stories. In 1999 she received the Musgrave Gold Medal from Jamaica, and her work has been widely translated and anthologized in major collections of contemporary poetry. Born in Jamaica, Goodison now teaches at the University of Michigan. She divides her time between Ann Arbor and Toronto.

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