If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
Publication date: September 6, 2022
Date read: September 1, 2023
Audiobook narrated by Torian Brackett
In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes on through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what their younger son, Trelawny, calls "the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive."
I'm still not completely sure how I feel about this book as a whole. There were parts of it that I found really interesting, and some that just didn't work for me personally. It also took until about halfway through the book until the chapters started to feel coherent as a story, at which point I did start to get invested in the storyline a little more.
Despite not being as invested in the story as I would have liked, I did find the characters really interesting. The majority of the story focuses on Trelawney - the younger son in the family, and also the one who always seems to get the short end of the stick. The older brother, Delano, was less likable, although his story about trying to get his business back on track was one that I did enjoy. And the cousin Cukie's story was my favorite, although not exactly a happy one. Although, to be fair, none of the stories were especially happy.
Overall, this book is definitely more about character development than exciting plot. I have a hard time recommending it to many readers, although those who appreciate a slow-burn character-driven story will probably find things to like here. It often feels like a memoir at times rather than a plot-driven novel.
As for the audiobook narration itself, I thought that Brackett did an excellent job. For those who like to read audiobooks at faster speed, I was only able to listen to this one at 1.25x max, due to the parts where Brackett read in a thick Jamaican accent - anything faster was too hard for me to follow.
Rating: 3/5 stars
Content warning: ethnic slurs, racism and racial profiling, death of a baby, homelessness, assault, death of a pet
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book.
Thanks for the review copy. I liked how the short stories were connected to read like a novel. This helped get me out of a reading slump.
It took me way too long to get to this book, but after reading it I cannot imagine why! What a wonderful collection of stories focusing on the family. It was heart wrenching in all the best ways and I definitely recommend it!
If I Survive You is a powerful look at the difficulty fitting in when you defy people's expectations -- in this case a Jamaican who doesn't look or talk like Bob Marley fitting into collegiate America. We see various struggles with social life, and then home life dealing with the opportunism and aftermath of storms and limited law and order. A dive shop pivots from exploring sunken boats for tourism to actually trying to broker some deals; while typical situations like brothers in a dispute of their parents' house escalates when the stakes are so much higher.
A really touching, gut-wrenching series of interlinked short stories surrounding a family. The writing is beautiful and poignant.
An absolutely fantastic collection of stories exploring racism, identity, gender, family, and so much more. The writing is lyrical and flows delightfully, and the stories connect really well.
“If I Survive You” is a book made up of 8 short stories all centered around the men from one immigrant family from Jamaica who settled in Miami in the 1970’s. The stories told here depict what this family encountered in South Florida from Hurricane Andrew, racism, poverty, and job insecurity. A very compelling read that can’t help but make you feel for the family who can’t seem to find their place in America, after being asked time after time, “what are you?” but are no longer Jamaican enough for their relatives in Jamaica.
3.5, rounded up.
#10 of the 2023 Booker longlist I've read, currently raked #4.
Regardless of whether this skirts the rules against short stores even being eligible for the Bookers, short stories, interlinked or not, are not my forte. And like most such collections this varied in quality, some jewel-like and shining ('Splashdown' being the favorite), others barely scrapping by ('Under the Ackee Tree', written in sometimes incomprehensible Jamaican patois, being the most egregious). And one also gets the feeling much of this is auto-fiction, or even downright memoir, which is also problematic, at least as far as Booker rules are concerned.
However, even though I had no intrinsic interest in the subject matter, and usually eschew tales about, let's face it, the dregs of society, I found this oddly compelling and readable, racing through it in barely a day and a half, is there IS that going for it. Wouldn't be surprised to find it on the short list, but didn't strike me as the winner by a long shot, as the narrow focus wouldn't seem to have wide appeal or relevance.
Absolutely beautiful. This well-written book was heartbreaking and hopeful and explored the human experience with such grace.
Every boy deserves to believe him father is good, but if each father were good, we’d be living in a different kind of world, you see me?
This book is indeed weaving different kinds of worlds: the kind we live in and the kind we wished we lived in. I wished this book took place in world where our protagonists could catch a break, and could give each other and themselves a break for that matter. But instead they just kept getting knocked around. Still I was so deeply immersed in their world, their lives and food and clothes and music. I loved it.
I’ll admit I can be skeptical opening up an overhyped book, but this one lived up, and I hope it makes it to the Booker Prize shortlist!
It took me a few chapters to figure out the rhythm of connection between these interconnected narratives, but once I did I enjoyed it a lot. I found the shift in narrator and voice mixed things up just enough to keep up a fast pace, and stayed connected enough to that I still felt like I was reading a novel (as opposed to an essay collection).
I missed that this was a collection and not novel, but I liked it anyway! Very well written and by the end I felt very friendly with the characters. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher!
Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for the ARC. The book is a collection of short stories. At first I wasn't sure if they were connected or unrelated and if it was a memoir or a novel. The story centers around a Jamaican family that is trying to find a better life in Miami. Due to race (being seen as Black), natural disasters and a recession, the characters have a will to survive even though the US, the land of dreams, is far from that. I found this to be a difficult, long read.
I loved this story collection it was a great way to get window into a family’s life but since all the characters carry throughout the story I really became attached to the characters. This story follows a Jamaican American family and the struggles of how to identify and just how to survive day to day troubles. I absolutely loved this authors writing it was so easy to get lost in I was able to read this in one sitting. I will definitely be looking for more from this author and would recommend this to anyone ! This has been my favorite book I have read so far this year and even with it being a few days I still find myself thinking back on these stories. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publishers for a chance to read this book for an honest review.
I really wanted to enjoy this book, but it wasn't my cup of tea. I didn't find the flow to be what I enjoy and I never felt connected to the book in the way I wanted. The "patois" used in the book was not difficult but it did take some getting used to while reading. I think for me was the jumping back and forth in time that caused me the most difficulty. I am sure that Mr Escoffery is an amazing writer but this book just wasn't in my cards to enjoy at this moment in time.
onathan Escoffery's stellar debut If I Survive You takes the short story genre and turns it on its axis to show the multidimensional underbelly of racism, generational discord, and the toll that a series of bad luck takes on the family dynamic. Escoffery presents a family that has migrated to South Florida to forgo political unrest in Jamaica to make a life in the "land of possibility." The story begins with its center on the youngest American-born child, Trelawny, who has found himself homeless and attempts to find financial freedom by taking unusual jobs on Craigslist. The story begins to sprout into different directions to explore the lives of Trelawny's family as they try to navigate their messiness in each of their lives.
An exceptional debut. Although I have seen this marketed as short stories, I read it more of a novel as the characters are consistent and there is significant character development. Escoffrey has a lot to say and is a significant new voice in contemporary fiction. I look forward to more from this excellent author.
I really enjoyed Jonathan Escoffery's debut novel. The way that it was told in short stories was a refreshing change of pace.
I highly recommend this book.
This debut of either interconnected stories or a nonlinear novel introduces a new literary talent. There have been so many accolades for Escoffery's debut work, both award nominations and rave reviews.
Culture, identity, belonging, and family all link the stories, each one of which is told from the perspective of a different family member.
Personally, I didn't love this as much as many but not every book is right for everyone. It definitely provided some interesting insight into the Jamaican immigrant experience. But I think the disjointedness of the narrative, jumps in perspective and time, made it lack cohesiveness and flow for me.
That said, I will definitely check out whatever Escoffery writes next.
Ohhhhh I had fun reading this one. It was uncomfortable and realistic and wild and emotional and weird all at once. It held my attention, which is something of a marvel given how much I read. I really enjoyed the characters and their overlapping narratives. What a fascinating exploration of identity and family and culture. This is one I gave four stars at first but it haunted me until I admitted to myself it belongs in the hall of fame.
This was an incredible debut by Jonathan Escoffrey. I was humbled by the eight connected stories and how they opened my eyes to the world as seen by an immigrant family. This is one of those books that will stay with you indefinitely.