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Monday, September 5, 2011

Olga: A Daughter's Tale

by Marie-Therese Brown

266 pages

About the Book

Olga - A Daughter's TaleAll her life Marie's mother, Olga, has been secretive about her past. Marie doesn't even know the name of her father. So when Olga ends up in the hospital, Marie realizes that if she ever wants to know about her family history she will have to find out for herself. She begins researching, using what little facts she has, and ends up discovering her mother's family in Jamaica. Through fictionalized journal entries, letters, and actual news clippings, Marie tells the story of Olga's childhood (happy yet with little to live on), her family, and the trip to England to visit her (horrible and vindictive) aunt - a trip that was supposed to last just a few months (but turned into the rest of her life).

Why I Read It

I love researching my own family history and I'm intrigued with family history stories of all kinds. I received an email from the author describing her book and I knew I wanted to learn more about Olga's story.

My Thoughts 

First off, I like the cover, though that was not my first though upon seeing it.  After finishing the book however, I feel like it fits very well.

As for the story itself - Olga's life - well, that was fascinating.  I loved learning about how her (white) mother, Becky, came to Jamaica from England, and how she bucked society when she chose to marry a black Jamaican. Becky was an amazing woman and I enjoyed reading about her.  It was clear that she loved her children and wanted the best for them even though she couldn't always provide it.

Race and color issues loomed large in Olga's childhood. In Jamaica at that time, lighter skin meant better status in society. Olga's siblings varied in skin tone and this led to a variety of conflicts in the family and community. And of course there was also Becky's white family to contend with. Some of them accepted her marriage but most did not. I learned a lot about Jamaican society and class issues while reading this section.

Olga's story took a turn for the worse when her journey to England coincided with the start of World War II and she was unable to return home as planned. Olga was a resourceful young woman and I enjoyed reading how she made the best of the situation. Things might have turned out alright had it not been for the intervention of her vindictive aunt - and boy, what a creep this aunt was!

The format of the book really worked for me. By using fictionalized journal entries and letters Marie-Therese allowed the reader to get to know a variety of Olga's family members early on. And by following Olga through her life in England I came to understand why she wanted to keep her life hidden away from her daughter.

All that being said, I think this book could have done with some grammatical editing. It wasn't written in dialect, rather it was written the way some people speak - including misused words and phrases.   I don't know if it was the author trying to make certain letters and journal entries sound "authentic" but it was very distracting to me. If it was intentional, I think the book would have been better without it. If it was unintentional, then a good editor would fix it all up.

I'm so glad that Marie-Therese was able to put together her mother's life story and reunite with the family she never knew. I love reading family history tales, and I hope that I'm able to find more like this one!

My (Quick) Thoughts on Self-Publishing

I do accept self-published novels for review but only if I can read an excerpt of the book ahead of time. This helps me eliminate any books that haven't been edited or that are simply not well written.  I am not comfortable rejecting all self-published books because I think there are lot of amazing stories out there that are worth reading, even if they aren't perfect. That was certainly the case with this book, and I'm very glad I read it!


Amy said...

Enjoyed reading this review and it seems like a very interesting book. I like books that use journal entries to tell part of the story. Thanks for posting!

Ryan said...

Normally I'm not a big fan of using jounal entries/letters to tell a story, but from your review, it seems to fit with this one. Great review.

Books and the Scientist said...

Great review :) I'm reading more and more books in this style and I'm particularly intrigued since I'm from Jamaica!! I'll have to check this book out.

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