The story of Bedward at the centre of Augustown, a partially fictionalised version of August Town, is given a much more richly nuanced and empathetic telling in Kei Miller’s vivid modern fable. An admired poet, Miller, like his compatriot the Man Booker prize-winning Marlon James, has mined a rich seam of Jamaican history ... although the narrator challenges any conclusion the reader may draw that the book is a version of magical realism, Augustown gives more than a nod to Gabriel García Márquez as a chronicle of a death foretold. It is this tension that drives the story towards an unbearably dramatic denouement ... Miller shows how the dominance of its brutal history lies just beneath the surface of everyday life; it runs through the island and Augustown like water. But his is a slippery tale, an old-time story. The beguiling simplicity of the narrative and prose yields to the profound realisation that for the people of Augustown, the only way to 'fly away to Zion' is through death; and some indeed are prepared, are 'ready fi dead.'
[Augustown] exemplifies the belief that everything you want to know about human beings can be found in an overlooked, out-of-the-way little community, as long you pay it sufficient attention ... The barely perceptible Caribbean lilt in Miller’s prose exerts a hypnotic effect that is one of the great pleasures of Augustown, even if every so often he uses it to deliver a horror ... Augustown isn’t without its storytelling flaws...But these are the peripheral stumblings of an expansive talent, of a writer stretching to catch up with his own curiosity and fertility. The center of the novel, Miller’s portrait of Augustown, holds.
Miller’s novel exhales the breathy immediacy of the here and now, even as it ranges back toward Bedward – proving the claim staked in this story’s first pages, in which we’re told that 'it would be no exaggeration to say that every day contains all of history' ... Augustown pays attention to those lives, offering a compelling variation on the theme that black lives matter ... as with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, it demands they be heard.
In Augustown, characters look at place, and they see time. They look at their scarred hills and see 'the dark shadow of history': colonialism, slavery, structural racism. Yet they also look at their land and see the future, a time when justice will reign and tears will be wiped away ... Miller’s poetry provides memorable line after line: 'every language, even yours, / is a partial map of this world.' In Augustown, Miller is more interested in a good story than in obvious lyrical brilliance ... If anything maps the way to Zion, Miller suggests, it’s this continued witness to untold history, this attention to how the glimmer of the future might be seen in the past.
Miller’s excellent third novel is built on sharp, sensitive portraits of key players in what at first seems a minor incident ... Despite the novel’s relative brevity, Miller captures the ways community, faith, and class create a variety of cultural microclimates.