The members of the jury for the 2018 Casa de la Américas Literary Award for Anglophone Caribbean Literature said:
“It is a passionate work of historical fiction drawing on actual events, to uncover one of the many atrocities of British colonial history. The novel engages the reader on both the emotional and cerebral level. We admired, and were moved by, Kellman’s portrayal of Jubo Jubogha, the African King, his resilience and refusal to submit to the indignities imposed on him by his British colonial jailers.
Much of the strength of Kellman’s work lies in his lyrical evocation of place, especially the Caribbean landscape. His portrayal of the people of Barbados captures both their pride in their African past and the suffering they endured. Tracing JaJa is a remarkable novel about human endurance, our capacity to find beauty and love even in the darkest of circumstances.”
“King Jaja won’ leh Becka ’lone
King Jaja won’ leh Becka ’lone
Wha’ Becka got, um is all she own.”
Anthony Kellman has created a warmly human work of historical fiction. He locates it between the trace of a satirical folk song, ridiculing the old African king’s affair with his Barbadian servant, and the official records of the illegal kidnapping and exile to the Caribbean of Jubo Jubogha, the King of Opobo, who stood in the way of British imperial interests in the palm-oil rich region of the Niger delta. The novel focuses on the last four months of Jaja’s life and the ironies of his position in Barbados where Whites dominated all aspects of life and race prejudice was nakedly expressed, but where many Black Barbadians were piqued to discover the presence of an African king amongst them.
At the heart of the novel is an entirely human drama in which, though his relationship with young Becka brings new life to his battered body and spirit, and the Barbadian landscape lifts his despair, the king never loses his sense of the injustice done to him or gives up on his urgent desire to return home.
Anthony Kellman writes with subtle psychological insights into a relationship that crosses ages and cultures, and with a poet’s perception of the natural beauties of his own island.