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These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card

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With the recent focus on giving people of color their voice, I’ve decided to make a more conscious effort to read books by people of color. If you’d like to join me, you can start with the Own Voices list of Paper Lantern Writers on Goodreads. I am a voracious reader, and I always appreciate books that stay in my head. These Ghosts are Family, by Maisy Card, is that sort of book. The author is a public librarian in New York, and this is her debut novel. 

This novel is a compelling blend of historical fiction, family drama, and Jamaican folklore. It begins with Abel Paisley as an older man deciding to rectify a decades-old life-changing decision that ended up giving him two separate lives and two separate families. In doing so, a tale unfolds that takes the reader on a multi-generational journey from modern Harlem back to colonial Jamaica. 

The characters are the driving force of this novel. In New York, Abel fakes his death and becomes Stanford Solomon. In Jamaica, Vera is the single mother ‘widowed’ by Abel’s decision to take on his best friend’s identity. Abel’s two daughters and granddaughter meet for the first time. Vera’s houseboy loves her but can’t have her. Chapters alternate between characters, giving the entire novel the feel of a family telling its story, of the link between ancestors and the living, and of the impact of a family’s history on its future.

The author has placed a family tree at the beginning of the book, which is critical to understanding who the characters are as the chapters bounce between countries and generations. At first it feels choppy, but the story pulls together into a complex multi-layered narrative. It reminds me of my efforts to trace my family tree and the people in it. Nothing comes together in a straight line. Secrets are withheld that require more digging. In These Ghosts Are Family, the reader knows Abel’s secret from chapter 1. As the novel progresses, it reveals how that secret has affected several generations of his family.

“A rich and layered story…A wonderfully ambitious novel: It sprawls in time from the uncertain present to the horror of slavery on a Jamaican plantation, examining racism, colorism, and infidelity and how they obscure and fracture a lineage…An intriguing debut with an inventive spin on the generational family saga.” —Kirkus 

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