I was a big fan of Bernardine Evaristo’s novel, ‘Mr Loverman’, so I was keen to read more by this author and this led me to ‘Lara’, a novel in verse that tells the story of a mixed-race girl raised in Woolwich, a white suburb of London, during the 60s and 70s. ‘Lara’ of the title is the fourth daughter of a black Nigerian man, Taiwo, and a white British woman, Ellen. Their marriage in 50s Britain scandalised family and friends but their love was stronger and, despite, the views of those around them they married and raised eight children.
The book, which is semi- autobiographical, raises issues of identity, diversity and acceptance. Covering most of the 20th century and reaching from Britain to Nigeria and Brazil through its tracing of the various members of Lara’s family, the story shows us what happens to people’s dreams when faced with adversity. It also reminds us that identity is as much about how others see us as it is about the labels we give to ourselves.
In her family history we meet Irish Catholics, German immigrants, Yorubas from Brazil by way of Nigeria and the middle class British whose fixed views of how we should live are challenged by outsiders. ‘Lara’ is also about the determination of immigrants to make their way in a new land and the moral courage it takes to make a home where some people make it clear you are not welcome.
‘Lara’ by Bernardine Evaristo is an amazing achievement. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?