24 July 2015

Forgotten Classic: 'In the Castle of My Skin' by George Lamming

Orginal cover
'In the Castle of My Skin' is one of those forgotten must-read postcolonial novels. The novel is the first and much acclaimed novel by Barbadian writer George Lamming (1937). The novel won a Somerset Maugham Award and was championed by eminent figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Richard Wright.

In the Castle of my skin is an autobiographical account of George Lamming’s childhood growing up in Barbados. It's about social hierarchy, power relationships and identity.  leaving the island is the only escape from the post-slavery social structure he grew up in. The only way to decolonise the mind, so speak.  Although the scene is Caribbean, the novel was written two years after Lammings arrival in London.

In a story in the Guardian Lammy writes: "Migration was not a word I would have used to describe what I was doing when I sailed with other West Indians to England in 1950. We simply thought we were going to an England that had been painted in our childhood consciousness as a heritage and a place of welcome. It is the measure of our innocence that neither the claim of heritage nor the expectation of welcome would have been seriously doubted. (..)

Today I shudder to think how a country, so foreign to our own instincts, could have achieved the miracle of being called Mother. (..)

English workers could also see themselves as architects of empire: a form, you might say, of domestic colonisation. Much of the substance of my first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, is an evocation of this tragic innocence. Nor was there, at the time of writing, any conscious effort on my part to emphasise the dimension of cruelty that had seduced, or driven, black people into such lasting bonds of illusion. It was not a physical cruelty. Indeed, the colonial experience of my generation was almost wholly without violence. It was a terror of the mind; a daily exercise in self-mutilation. Black nbsp;versus black in a battle for self-improvement. "

On third-generation British citizen of West Indian ancestry, Lammy writes: "Their relation to England is experienced as a racial assault that allows little space for a dialogue that would humanise the conflicts that arise from a perception of the other's difference. "  Read more The Guardian.


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