I was immediately drawn to this book with its themes of multigenerational family and migration, and as I’ve not read a book about the Caribbean island of St Vincent before, it would add to my knowledge about places and peoples. I was looking forward to it for ages, but I’ve got into the habit of reviewing NetGalley books in the month they’re published so people who enjoy the review can buy the book straight away. Happily, it matched (exceeded) expectations, and I’d urge everyone to read it!

Alexis Keir – “Windward Family: An Atlas of Love, Loss and Belonging”

(8 November 2022, NetGalley)

But now I felt happy and proud to be an itinerant from England with Aotearoa in my heart and Saint Vincent in my bones. I was on the way back to the other places that were home to me, knowing now that i could have more than one.

As children, Keir and his two siblings were sent “home” to Saint Vincent while their parents tried to sell up in he UK and force a new life in America. Things went badly wrong, as we find through scenes splintered through the book, and eventually they were brought home to the UK, a new house bought and nothing more really said. Twenty years later, after time in Aotearoa, where he learned a lot about people’s relationship to land, Indigenous communities and the community of friends and third-sector workers, he’s ready to go back, and from then on we revisit the island with him, latterly to spend time with his parents, who did the big return and built a house over there, but moved backwards and forwards over time, his mum returning for medical treatment, his dad I think still there, ageing within the hammock of his community.

As Keir learned more about the journeys his own family took, he also learned of the history of Saint Vincent, harbouring those who pushed back against slavery, with an African influence that could have come from several different sources, and with its own character. He also started to learn about and research other, earlier, immigrants: a boy plucked from his mother’s arms to be exhibited in a circus, his mother who gets the chance to try to find him, a footman from Harewood House who mysteriously passes back and forth, and an earlier nurse than his mum. Their stories are included, invented voices and circumstances, something I don’t usually go for but fitting in beautifully here in this thoughtful and careful narrative.

Another point I really appreciated was the pushback against toxic masculinity / toxic ideas of Black masculinity, as Keir uses sport to work off his trauma from being sent away early, and his friends in sport to help him, works in social care and support with the Deaf community and keeps in close touch with his sons when his relationship breaks down, acts as his mum’s carer in her final illness and is a big support to his dad when he’s alone, modelling a mode of manhood that we often miss in popular culture narratives.

After the main sections of the book we have some long essays which pull themes together, on who cuts whose hair when and how, on parrots; these pieces were I think published separately and first and they have some repetition from earlier sections but it all weaves together very nicely as a whole, and is an engaging and absorbing, and ultimately positive, read.

Even more positively, we find a letter from Alexis at the end of the book which shares how success for him lies in being able to share his words and experiences back home in Luton, in engaging with writers’ groups in Saint Vincent and “persuading people to listen to and read stories which have not been heard before”.

Thank you to Thread Books for choosing me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Windward Family” was published on 2 February 2023.

A Bookish Beck serendipity moment here: This is the second book I’ve read in fairly quick succession (would have been quicker had I not realised and wanted to put some space between them) that I have read an autobiography seen through a multi-generational, group biographical lens of a Black man of Caribbean heritage who grew up in Luton, the other being Colin Grant’s “I’m Black So You Don’t Have to Be“. Both, I hasten to add, are equally worthwhile reads!