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Coming Home and other stories

Written by Chris Searle for Morning Star on no date provided

THESE books, like their writers, come from Barbados, and they are both deeply moulded in the limestone landscape of their island.

June Henfrey, who died in 1992, spent much of her life in Liverpool, where she pioneered many black community projects, including the Liverpool Women’s Technology Scheme. But as the stories in Coming Home testify, she was also a powerful and accomplished writer. She writes with a beautiful lyricism of the Barbadian canefields, the implacable setting of her stories:

‘Living cane was his world. He loved the pale green shoots that showed above the black earth soon after planting. Later, the half-grown plants would whisper together in the wind and rain. Later still, the fleecy silver-grey arrow fronds would wave and sigh in the year’s turning.’

Inside this plantation world, her people dream and struggle. In her memorable story, ‘The Gully’, Quashebah, a slave who is raped and made pregnant by her overseer, flees and seeks sustenance for her secret dreams of freedom in a limestone cave, where she finds both welcome and protection. A particularly deep-rooted story is ‘Freedom Come’, telling of Nanny, one of the enthusiasts and mobilisers of Bussa’s slave rebellion in Barbados in 1816. Henfrey’s portrait, convincing and assured, is of an ‘old African who had never yielded to the fact of her enslavement.’

All her characters are of this mettle, whether born of slavery, colonialism or migration, and June Henfrey’s stories have left us the words and spirit of a writer and woman whose life and creative impulse was ever to seek freedom and betterment for her people on two sides of an ocean.

This is a review of Coming Home and other stories

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