cover image How to Say Babylon: A Memoir

How to Say Babylon: A Memoir

Safiya Sinclair. Simon & Schuster, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-982132-33-0

Poet Sinclair (Cannibal) recounts her harrowing upbringing in Jamaica in this bruising memoir. Forbidden by her militant Rastafarian father from talking to friends or wearing pants or jewelry, Sinclair and her sisters were subject to his unpredictable whims and rage. After her mother gifted 10-year-old Sinclair a book of poems, she turned to writing poetry, drawn to the medium’s structure and emotive capabilities: “In the chaos of our rented house, the poem was order.” With the help of scholarships, she attended a prestigious private school in Jamaica to study poetry, and eventually left for college in America (the proverbial “Babylon” of the title, and the main target of her father’s rage), where she funneled her conflicted feelings about the move into her work: “I try to write the ache into something tangible.” In dazzling prose (“There was no one and nothing ahead of me now but the unending waves, the sky outpouring its wide expanse of horizon, and all this beckoning blue”), she examines the traumas of her childhood against the backdrop of her new life as a poet in Babylon, declining to vilify her father even as she questions whether a relationship with him might be salvageable. Readers will be drawn to Sinclair’s strength and swept away by her tale of triumph over oppression. This is a tour de force. Agent: Janet Silver, Aevitas Creative Management. (Aug.)