A powerful and affecting new book from Caryl Phillips: a brilliant hybrid of reportage, fiction, and historical fact that tells the stories of three black men whose lives speak resoundingly to the place and role of the foreigner in English society.
Francis Barber, “given” to the great eighteenth-century writer Samuel Johnson, more companion than servant, afforded an unusual depth of freedom that, after Johnson’s death, hastened his wretched demise … Randolph Turpin, who made history in 1951 by defeating Sugar Ray Robinson, becoming Britain’s first black world-champion boxer, a top-class fighter for twelve years whose life ended in debt and despair … David Oluwale, a Nigerian stowaway who arrived in Leeds in 1949, the events of whose life called into question the reality of English justice, and whose death at the hands of police in 1969 served as a wake-up call for the entire nation.
Each of these men’s stories is rendered in a different, perfectly realized voice. Each illuminates the complexity and drama that lie behind the simple notions of haplessness that have been used to explain the tragedy of these lives. And each explores, in entirely new ways, the themes—at once timeless and urgent—that have been at the heart of all of Caryl Phillips’s remarkable work: belonging, identity, and race.