Homecoming is an extraordinary and compelling book in which the memories of bus drivers, civil servants, engineers, nurses, RAF and army recruits, teachers, shop stewards and seamstresses jostle with those of journalists, musicians, novelists and poets. The rich multiplicity and variety of voices from black Britons assembled by Grant over many years span a period from the Forties to the present... The voices in Homecoming sing throughout the book but they also reverberate pain, for so many are recounting stories they do not want to remember. Listening to them, I see again the tears my father shed when in doubt about his decision to claim England as his home.
Throughout Homecoming, the many fragments of experience are arranged carefully, sensitively, in such a way as to enlighten and suggest, rather than inflame or condescend. There has, Colin Grant seems to suggest, been enough of that already.
The visual effect of the novel’s 558 densely type-packed pages is as rebarbative as the thickets of prickles that surround the enchanted castles of fairy tales. Yet enter the thicket, and the prickles begin to retreat. The narrative unfolds in the voices of innumerable townspeople, shifting without warning from one to another. But Krasznahorkai is a pungent delineator of character, and the landscape of his imaginary city is peopled with figures as busy and distinctive as those of a painting by Bruegel. While the novel energetically pursues Krasznahorkai’s habitual themes – disorder, spiritual drought, the impossibility of meaning in the absence of God – it does so in a tone that glitters with comic detail.
It is through these stories that the psychological effect of Britain’s colonial project on those it considered its subjects comes into full view. It was painful to read Grant’s account of asking his relatives about his family tree. Their recollection stops at slavery, as though they came into existence because of the British. This is a book in part about gross imbalances of power.
The structure of Homecoming gives its subjects space to speak for themselves, with each vignette providing a glimpse into little known history. Jumping from story to story made me want a more continuous narrative, but Grant’s collection of voices, like The Windrush Betrayal, exposes effectively the cruel logic of Britain’s legacy of domination.
Drawing on scores of first-hand accounts, Colin Grant (born in Britain of Jamaican parents) offers oral history at its finest... His interviews reveal natural courage and style enough to face down even the vile racism encountered on the streets of Notting Hill in the 1950s and afterwards... But the Windrush generation shouldn’t be shoehorned into a wider outrage that arguably chips away at their very special status.
You can imagine Colin Grant — a historian who, like another chronicler of multiculturalism, Sarfraz Manzoor, came of age in unfashionable Luton — sitting in living rooms and kitchens in London, Leeds or Manchester, listening intently, perhaps with a cup of tea or a glass of rum near at hand. People who might never have had a chance to unburden themselves of their memories recall events that they might have thought no one would think worth documenting.
He lets people speak for themselves. Homecoming, his oral history of the generation of West Indians who came to this country from the late 1940s onwards may be repetitive at times (quite a few of the accounts begin with a bald “I was born...”), but once you fall into the rhythm of the words there is much to enjoy.