Show Me a Mountain is the third novel in Young’s Twentieth-Century Jamaican trilogy. The first two books being Pao and Gloria. Despite it belonging to a group of novels, the book stands alone – I haven’t read the first two novels although I’m now very keen to.
This story belongs to Fay Wong, daughter of an African mother and Chinese father, she grows up in their Jamaican mansion in the 1930s with her siblings – older brother, Stanley and younger sister, Daphne – and the housemaid, Sissy.
Fay’s mother is formidable. By page 12, she’s slapped Fay several times and left her naked, locked in the piano room in the house. It seems Fay can do no right:
Every girl I brought home from school was too noisy, or insolent, or stupid. Or too black.
‘What is too black? […] Are you too black, Mama? Because of your hair? Is Stanley too black because he had a black papa? What about Daphne? Dark like she is. Even though Papa her daddy. Is she too black?’
‘Who do you think you are? A little bit of light Chinese skin and some yellow hair and you think you can talk to me any which way you choose?’
Fay tries to escape from her mother’s domination, staying out late after school and then becoming friends with Beverley Chung, the only other mixed-heritage girl at her school. Beverley introduces Fay to her grandmother, a rich, former socialite who enjoys the company of the girls and Tyrone, Beverley’s brother. Fay develops a lively social life, dancing; dating an English man stationed in Jamaica; befriending Isaac, a butcher and communist, and finding work in the army. Regardless, her mother will have the final word:
‘Think you can talk to me any way you like? Well let me tell you, for all your fancy friends and fancy clothes you are still a woman. And a woman needs a husband and, that being the case, it is better to have one who can provide rather than one with nothing in his pockets but his empty hands. A Chinese shopkeeper is as good a catch as you are going to get. You should be counting your blessings instead of turning up your nose.’
Fay’s a spoiled brat – her father’s doing, according to her mother – and life with Yang Pao, will show her a side of Jamaica she’s never really considered before.
Show Me a Mountain explores a society divided by money. It questions whether the damage done to people will always be passed down the familial line or whether cycles can be broken.
Young’s characters are complex, behaving in ways which cast them in both positive and negative lights. The most surprising of them are seen to seek some form of comfort or redemption without necessarily changing their behaviour. Fay is a particularly interesting character to follow, her own development aided by a Catholic priest she seeks out following her marriage.
Young’s descriptions of place and character are vivid and absorbing; I look forward to returning to her world via the first two novels in the series.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy