three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
By: 
Andrea Levy
user_rating: 
0

A-Fruit of the LemonAside from a few foul-mouthed bullies on the school playground, Faith Jackson, the English daughter of Jamaican immigrants, grew up, graduated from college, and landed her dream job at BBC, completely oblivious to the brutality of racism. When a crushing series of events—including the loss of a promotion and a violent hate crime—suddenly force her to confront the harsh reality of prejudice, she plunges into a deep depression. Her anxious parents, about to return to Jamaica themselves, pack her off to an aunt in Jamaica. There, amid the lush beauty of the tropics, Faith begins to forge a connection to a family she never knew and to understand a heritage she never imagined.
Picador. 352 pages. $15. ISBN: 031242664X

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"As an English novelist of Afro-Caribbean descent, Andrea Levy launches her works with great aplomb into the shifting seas of the concept formerly known as the British Empire. … Fruit of the Lemon … follows exceptionally well in [Small Island’s] footsteps, a work that feels of a piece with Small Island and its story of Jamaicans in post–World War England while carving a fresh niche where new characters can breathe and grow." Celia McGee

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Unassuming though Levy’s empathetic talent may appear to be, her gift for incisive social commentary is wholly evident in this low-key novel. Faith’s simple story is a sharp lesson in the complexity of immigrant identity, intensified by family secrets that leave shadowy absences where connections ought to be." Elsbeth Lindner

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The voice is warm, the observation sharp, and the author’s sense of how personal and cultural histories are intertwined is persuasively acute. … While Fruit of the Lemon can feel a little loose or episodic in structure at times, it always feels genuine and it’s unfailingly revealing of the various terrains it explores." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Faith is a bright, witty and likable heroine, and we are glad for her as she learns where she comes from. And though the lessons she learns are all good ones, one cannot help but wish that Fruit of the Lemon lingered more on the tang of Faith’s internal struggles before serving up the lemonade of its conclusion." Tayari Jones

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"A lot of information about this family is transmitted, but nothing meaningful, threatening, positive or elucidating happens, and nobody changes because of this information—for good or for ill. … It’s now time for her to use her considerable and real talent to create a story beyond islands and racial disputes." Mickey Pearlman

Critical Summary

Named after the song "Lemon Tree," which grumbles that such a beautiful tree should produce so inedible a fruit, Fruit of the Lemon was first published in England in 1999, five years before the award-winning Small Island. Given the similar themes and content, comparisons were inevitable. Though critics praised Andrea Levy’s lovely prose and affable characters, some felt that the book had a few rough edges: the believability of Faith’s breakdown, for example, and, in the second part of the novel set in Jamaica, the quick succession of family anecdotes that read like diary entries. Fruit of the Lemon is clearly recognizable as the manifestation of Levy’s "gathering talent" (Miami Herald), but it also stands on its own as a bittersweet exploration of an outsider’s experience of British culture.

Also by the Author

Small Island (2004): Winner of the 2004 Whitbread Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction, this haunting novel follows two struggling, unhappy families—one Jamaican, the other solidly middle-class British—through post–World War II England. ( 4 of 5 Stars May/June 2005)