Lady Moses: A Novel

Lady Moses: A Novel

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by Lucinda Roy
     
 

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This powerful debut novel is the story of Jacinta Moses, the child of a passionate and courageous love. Jacinta's father is a black African writer, Simon Moses; her mother, Louise, is a white British actress. Her father dies when she is young, sending her mother into a state of madness and depression. Impoverished and alone, Jacinta longs for a better life. As

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Overview

This powerful debut novel is the story of Jacinta Moses, the child of a passionate and courageous love. Jacinta's father is a black African writer, Simon Moses; her mother, Louise, is a white British actress. Her father dies when she is young, sending her mother into a state of madness and depression. Impoverished and alone, Jacinta longs for a better life. As she grows older, however, prejudice—her own as well as others'—leads her to make adventurous but damaging choices. Jacinta flees from London to the American South and marries a white man. When her daughter, Lady, is born with a disability, ruining her hopes for a picture-perfect life, Jacinta travels to Africa to search for answers in her father's homeland. Her experiences there will change her forever. In Africa she is forced to draw on her family's great strengths and weave something brilliant out of their history of pain.

Lady Moses is about being both black and white. It is about passionate characters in extraordinary situations; about how one woman employs her creativity, intelligence, and strength to forge an identity. With its unflinching insight and dazzling prose, Lady Moses marks the entry of a sparkling new voice in African American fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
Lucinda Roy...has the ability to paint a scene or evoke an emotion with the minimum of words...Poignant [and] vividly rendered.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I could lie down in the hammock of his words," muses Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses about her father's stories of Africa, and the same can be said of Roy's dazzling debut, an enchanting story about a woman whose life is fraught with disaster and blessed by love. Born to a haughty white British actress and an African writer, Jacinta enjoys an idyllic 1950s childhood in South London - she barely notices her family's poverty - until her father suddenly dies, and her life becomes frightening and dangerous. By the time she reaches adolescence, Jacinta has been sexually abused by a neighbor, has witnessed her friend's death in a terrible accident and has been sent to a foster home while her mother recovers from a breakdown. But witty, defiant Jacinta survives and, in the process, wins our sympathy. At 24, she is whisked to Virginia by theatrical American novelist Emmanuel Fox III, who proposes on bended knee an hour after they meet. Troubled from the start, their relationship is plagued by the birth of a handicapped daughter and by Manny's jealousy when Jacinta succeeds as a poet, but a pilgrimage to West Africa enables Jacinta to reclaim her father's spirit and to recognize her own fortitude. Roy handles her complex plot with impressive authority as she tackles themes of racial identity, mental illness and female self-reliance. Her characters are rendered with depth; headstrong, selfish, wise and tender, they make mistakes, have regrets and learn from them. And Roy's deft prose gracefully expresses their humor, their pain and their moments of joy and transcendence.
Library Journal
Roy (English, Virginia Tech.) has created a powerful character in Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses. Called to share her mother's last days, Jacinta responds to her loss by narrating her story. The daughter of a biracial couple, she endures genteel and not-so-genteel poverty, the early death of her African father, her white mother's mental instability, and the disasters engendered by her own pride and drive for beauty. Her childhood is shaped by the physical poverty of South London and a loving, if wonderfully idiosyncratic, extended family. Fleeing London for the promise of America, Jacinta finds both freedom in writing and imprisonment in an unhappy marriage. Impulsively traveling again, this time to Africa, she encounters more questions before finding her own center. Unflinchingly honest, Jacinta is by turns fascinating and infuriating but always fully human. -- Jan Blodgett, Davidson College, North Carolina
NY Times Book Review
Filled with exuberance...Lucinda Roy is an excellent writer.
San Diego Union Tribute
A terrific novel. Lady Moses is one of the best books you will read this year.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060930844
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/01/1999
Edition description:
1 HARPER
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.98(d)

Read an Excerpt


Louise Buttercup Moses is dead. She was the beginning of my story and she shaped its middle. She has left me to write the end of it on my own. Her thin English hair, coiled by the chemotherapy, hugs her skull like the fuzz of newborns; her eyelids don't flutter anymore; her chapped lips are slightly parted, as if she's come in from winter to warn me about the chill of the outside world. But dead parents don't speak in the literal sense. So I force myself to dream the words from her mouth and give them the appropriate intonation: I love you, Jacinta, she says. The world is only cold if you forget how to light a fire. You will be lucky.
It isn't the way I thought it would be. In my rocking chair by the hospital bed we set up for her in the living room, I sit and stare at each contour of her face. I want to carry it with me on the rest of my journey because, in death at least, it is full of tenderness. I look at her expression and see it recede from me into memory even as I stare at it. I hope that, when the pain lessens, she will have left something in her wake for me to steer by. On this day in April, I hold Lady, who is crying with the strength of all her nine years and telling me it isn't fair. I, a daughter no longer, hug my daughter and try to tell her in words she'll understand that justice is as transient as innocence; and that Mama Lou loved her; and that love, in the end, always has to be enough.
Later, when I am alone again, I sit with my mother's corpse in the dark. I reach out to touch her, but jerk my hand back. She is cold. Her skin reminds me of plastic. I shiver and rock back and forth to nowhere, and pull the blanket Alfred gave me tight around myneck.
Louise Buttercup Moses is dead. I, Jacinta Louise, am still breathing. Once again that small detail means that I am the one left behind. It was Easter when I sat in the dark with the dead before. I try not to remember. This is another place. This is another Easter. Circles are not always nooses. Coming back to the past can be a way out of the present. We must believe that; we have no choice.
The grayness of London seeps in through the drawn curtains in the sitting room where Louise went mad, casting a light that will forever remind me of weeping. In this room in London, on this day, after thirty-six years of playing Mother and Daughter, she has finally escaped from me. I call out her name: Louise! Louise! But no one resurrects the dead unless it's in a story.
First we are together on the pages of a narrative, and then, a few pages later, when I was comfortable in the role of my mother's mother, she dies. I feel cheated. In spite of what I said to Lady, I am angry, angry, angry. I want her back. It was too soon. The system was rigged with a virus. Someone should have told me.
When she told me she was dying, the ocean crackled between us and, in an aside, casually, as though I should have expected it, she mentioned that, if the chemotherapy didn't work, she'd have about six months. "What a nuisance," she said. We made jokes, the way we had learned to do when life sucked so much you wanted to kill something. She told me she could get the wig on the National Health. "I don't want the Maggie Thatcher look," she said. "Her hair looks sort of concrete, doesn't it? I like the queen's hairdo; I could live with that." She told me I was very brave. I tried hard to keep breathing. She told me she was proud of me. "America's so much better than here," she said. "Everything's rotting in Britain." Then she thanked me again for not making a fuss and said she was going to Salisbury Cathedral the next morning on the coach. She wanted to visit Salisbury because it made her happy to know how spires felt. When I put the phone down, I was a "little coloured girl" again instead of a woman of color, and everything turned to dust. It hurt so much I cried out like an animal and terrified Lady.
Nothing is more potent than exhaustion, not even fear. I am tired. I long to be back in Virginia where spring is green and where the ghosts from two continents cannot find me. I look at my mother's sweet face as she sleeps. In the dark recesses of the room, regret scratches around in the corners. I lean back in the chair. Sixty-six. Not a lucky number. Our ages play with each other. Three is half of six. At thirty-six, I am half the woman she was. What she did I probably could not have done. She left and then came back, denying the sweet pull of insanity for nearly thirty years.
Alfred comes in. Come and have some tea, Cinta, he says. Come and have a nice cup of tea.
But tea won't help this time. Alfred knows this. He comes into the room and pulls up a chair, which scrapes across the carpet in a sound reminiscent of the word "hush."
Hush. The Mother-Baby is sleeping—coaxed into death by the final lullaby. This room on Lavender Sweep in South London is her sepulchre. A few cars rush around the bow of the street; we barely hear them. Lavender Sweep has been Louise's home for forty years. There is nothing glamorous or grand about it. It is an ordinary street in an ordinary part of South London that had, for a few decades (I force myself to believe), some extraordinary residents.
Alfred takes my hand and that is the only cue I need in order to let go. Pain spills out of me like blood. When I speak, my voice has to climb stairs.
She was better than this. If only . . . if only . . .
Alfred kisses the hand I burned as a child because it had sinned, and places it over the golden key that hangs from a chain around my neck.
We'll write it down, he says, barely audible. Amazing things happened in this house. You know it will heal us if we write it all down.
He thinks I don't hear him. But way down where I am on the bottom rung of the ladder, my strong left hand reaches for a pen.
If life is only a brief journey toward great loss in a small room, what will I tell my child when she asks me again, just as she did when she was five years old, "What is the meaning of life, Mama?"
There has to be more than this paltry death. My answer to my daughter must imply that there is glory to be found if you look for it hard enough. If mortality is to be borne, it needs a frame of reference. Perhaps courage comes in the construction of one.
You know it will heal us if we write it all down.
I start with the capital letter "I." It begins in the sky with Louise and ends on the earth with me and Alfred years ago when Simon was with us—before Lady, before Manny, before Esther, before John. Before something terrible transformed Easter.
Back to a time when Louise and Simon were alive, when there was joy and grandeur in the world, and I was a small coloured girl riding my father's elephant among the traffic on Lavender Sweep.

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