Cover Image: If I Survive You

If I Survive You

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<B>The Publisher Says</b>: A major debut, blazing with style and heart, that follows a Jamaican family striving for more in Miami, and introduces a generational storyteller.

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.”

Masterfully constructed with heart and humor, the linked stories in Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You center on Trelawny as he struggles to carve out a place for himself amid financial disaster, racism, and flat-out bad luck. After a fight with Topper—himself reckoning with his failures as a parent and his longing for Jamaica—Trelawny claws his way out of homelessness through a series of odd, often hilarious jobs. Meanwhile, his brother, Delano, attempts a disastrous cash grab to get his kids back, and his cousin, Cukie, looks for a father who doesn’t want to be found. As each character searches for a foothold, they never forget the profound danger of climbing without a safety net.

Pulsing with vibrant lyricism and inimitable style, sly commentary and contagious laughter, Escoffery’s debut unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in a world at the mercy of capitalism and whiteness. With If I Survive You, Escoffery announces himself as a prodigious storyteller in a class of his own, a chronicler of American life at its most gruesome and hopeful.


My Review</b>: When I think about braided-stories novels, there's always a little frisson of fear in my response. I don't always think it's the best idea to try to make a novel out of things that don't fit together naturally. If there's an organic flow among stories, what stops the author from making it into a regular novel-style novel? Why this technique, not another that doesn't make The Market shudder deep in its bones? All we ever hear is that stories are hard to sell, collections are death in the stores, writing stories is just as hard as writing novels but even less remunerative. I'm inured to this cant of can't by now. It's done its damage. I look askance at connected collections.

What, then, is the reason I decided to read this iteration of the story-novel? There's no one thing, there's a constellation of tweaks and trips. I find the idea of books others can't "understand" tempting. I am all for creative uses of the many kinds of English out there waiting to make my acquaintance. I'll walk a mile for a good story about people who just...can't...because they're my people. Because whatever else divides us, we have one thing in common: We don't Belong, and others do. That's worth a lot of effort...which, for the record, I did not think was needed in reading this book. The second story is in patwa but the rest? Not a bit of it.

It pleases me to use my time-honored technique called the Bryce Method to explicate the wonders herein to feast upon at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud.

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This review is based on an ARC kindly provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Topper, Sanya and their two children Trelawny and Delano flee their increasingly violent hometown of Kingston to search for a safer, and better, life in Miami.
They soon realize that the reality of their new homeland is quite different from what they dreamed of.

The story is told through eight separate but connected shorter stories that combined tells the story of racism, the search for identity and the wish to belong.
Most of the stories are told through different people that in some degree belong or are connected to the family at the center of this story.

In the first part “In flux” is a elegantly written power house of a journey through Trelawny’s experience being caught in between, between skin colors, ethnicity, between countries and between cultures.
It’s a manifesto of loneliness, desperation, racism and unfairness that grabs a hold of you an hooks you into the story.

The next part is told by Trelawny’s father and the seismic shift in tone and perspective that suddenly happens with this new narrator is a powerful depiction of the was gap that can occur between generations, especially generations that grow up in vastly different countries and cultures.

In addition to Trelawny and his family’s at times ruthless struggle to survive, his search for his own identity and a place to belong and thrive in a new country, this is also a story of a cursed house, betrayal and love.
It’s a story of a person trying to figure out who he is in a society obsessed with labels.
Is he black? Is he Hispanic? Being mixed is not the straightforward answer people want.

The writing in this book is astonishing, the story gripping and the shifting perspectives keeps you completely hooked throughout as well as making you curious about what will happen next.
Even though this is a dire tale at times, it’s also written with lots of humor, mostly of the darker kind.
It’s a powerful story that I highly recommend reading.

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What are you?

“If I Survive You” is an eight story mosaic depicting a Jamaican family’s struggles to establish their lives once they land in America. The brilliant first story, “In Flux,” hits with a question the characters never completely shake: “What Are You?” Trelawny is in fifth grade in Miami now. The kids choose sides and demand to know what he is… is he black? Is he Spanish? He is asked what language his mother speaks… it certainly has a funny accent. She tells him he is a little bit of this, a little bit of that– but that is not the one word answer people want. His brother Delano tells him they are black in America, not black in Jamaica. The confusion only thickens as his mother warns him not to bring any “nappy-headed” girl around and for God’s sake please do not bring home a white girl. The Jamaican kids do not consider him legit as he is not in tune with their culture or their homeland. Throughout his life the lack of an identity to bond with will muddle up his self-image.

The remaining seven stories of the family are told from different points of view. Trelawny and Delano, very different personality types, fight in their own way trying to succeed. They skirmish with each other and with their father in the effort to make a better life for themselves.

Along the way we get Hurricane Andrew, the recession, homelessness, racism from all sides, and the ordeal of a number of sketchy jobs. Trelawny is hired as a building manager where the expectation is to treat the elderly tenants callously, seeing what information he can gather to generate more evictions and more rent increases. Later he finds himself involved with a woman after answering her Craigslist ad– she was asking to be given a black eye. Trelawny is a little uneasy about this… but, well, forty dollars is forty dollars.

This is Jonathan Escoffery’s first book and is rock solid. The narrative flies along with a beautiful balance of humor, compassion and heartbreak– landing the sense that these lives are real. A debut this strong promises great things for the future. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for providing the advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I think that while I enjoyed the jumping around of these short stories, the tone and the harsh nature of the content didn't always land for me. I might need to reread in a different mindset.

3 stars.

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An interesting book about being of a different culture and making a place in the US. Tracing these times throughout childhood, college, and adulthood, readers understand another’s point of view.

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This gem of a book that comes out tomorrow is certainly worthy of all the prepublication hype surrounding it. First off whatever books @jaxsonhoward attaches himself too I take notice of. He has yet to steer me wrong. Secondly, when Anne Patchett calls out a book I know it’s gonna be good.

Jonathan Escoffrey’s novel is a series of connected stories that follow one family who escapes the turmoil of Jamaica in the seventies and immigrate to Miami. The center character in this group and who has the bulk of the narratives is Trey, the younger of two boys, thoughtful and bookish he spends much of his time searching for an identity, his friends lovers, and coworkers looking to classify his racially ambiguous appearance while Trey struggles to find a fit. But Escoffrey through these characters is covering lots of ground, with homelessness, familial relations and a group of people living on the edge while an incoming hurricane offers both promise and devastation. It’s a great debut that finds moments of levity in the pain and struggle of survival and belonging. Thank to fsgbooks mcdbooks and @netgalley for the advance copy.

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I am in the minority here and did not enjoy this novel. I felt like the stories jumped around a lot, left quite a bit of unfinished situations, and honestly felt… incomplete, for a lack of better words.

Thank you to NetGalley & Farrar, Straus, & Giroux for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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This started out really strong and the introduction to Trelawney and his circle of family was raw he endearing. I loved the early stories. The Jamaican dialect was a bit hard to follow but were good. The stories about the brother were not as interesting to me but the narrative picks up towards the end. Definitely a writer to keep on my radar.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley

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Delighted to include this title in the September instalment of Novel Encounters, my regular column highlighting the month’s most anticipated fiction for the Books section of Zoomer magazine. (see column and mini-review at link)

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This collection of inter-connected short stories gives glimpses of the difficulties of assimilation. The first story, In Flux, talks about the insanity of racial classification for the second generation Jamaican main character, Trelawny. He is plagued by the question What Are You? through school, jobs, relationships. He is not bothered by it, he considers himself an American of Jamaican descent, but everyone else is bugged by whether or not he is black.

Trelawny is a difficult character. He is intelligent and articulate, but also somewhat cursed. He is hampered by racism and a difficult family life, but also by some stupendously dumb decisions he has made. The harrowing glimpses of his difficulties in finding employment and being able to afford housing are an eye opener for many of us.

I was left with the hope that Trelawny will find some peace and some financial stability, but also the nagging feeling that probably won't happen. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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"If I Survive You" by Jonathan Escoffery is a stunning debut! Though I am not usually a fan of short stories, this book reads more like a novel because the stories are so closely connected. The stories follow the three male members of a family, with much of the focus on the youngest son, Trelawny. Trelawny's parents left Jamaica to escape the escalating violence and moved to Miami to raise their family. However, life in the United States isn't easy for the family, and Trelawney especially has a difficult time fitting in, constantly facing the question, "What are you?". This is not a light read. It deals with very heavy and controversial topics such as racism and immigration. It is raw and heartbreaking, but also at moments uplifting and encouraging. It is beautifully written, with lyrical prose that paints a picture of what life was like for this family and makes the characters come alive from the pages. I look forward to more from this author!

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the privilege of reading an advanced digital copy of this astonishing book, in exchange for my honest review.

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This is a story about survival.  It focuses on Trelawny, his parents, his brother, and his cousin and their rocky journeys making their way in America.  Trelawny's parents, Topper and Sanya, leave Jamaica in the 1970s for Miami, seeking to escape from the political violence there.  But Miami is not quite the panacea they hoped.  Everytime one member of the family seems like they are getting a foothold, they encounter a new challenge, whether societal, familial, or internal.  In the early days, it is Hurricane Andrew.  As Trelawny goes to a prestigious midwestern college and his brother, Delano, finds success with a landscaping business, the 2008 recession then takes away any hope of economic security.  And all along the way, the members of the family find the others are as likely to undermine as support.

This book was terrific -- thoughtful and astute, with a highly original voice.  Many of the stories are told from Trelawny's perspective, but we also have stories from the perspectives of his father, Delano, and Trelawny's cousin, Cukie.  The stories also jump around in time.  Through this structure, the reader sees the dramatically different perspective each member of the family has on each other and their respective lives.  We also see the backstories and experiences that explain one character's actions, but the others are not aware of.  In this respect, the story does a good job of capturing the complex nature of family relationships and the challenges that people often have of seeing beyond their own perspectives.  The author also does an excellent job of capturing the often illusory promise of progress, how it feels to live without a safety net, and the resilience that is necessary to survive those dynamics..

Strongly recommended!

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There were times that I questioned whether I would survive this book—I almost gave up several times. Admittedly, I am not the intended audience for this book: wrong generation, wrong background, wrong color. However, feeling that I needed to understand these characters, I continued with the book.
I do not question Escoffery’s abilities as a writer. The issue that I had with these stories was the inability of anyone in the book to overcome their situation. As the stories ended, everyone was exactly where they were in the beginning.
My thanks to NetGalley and Farrah, Strauss and Giroux for an advance copy of this book.

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While I usually like the format of linked short stories, the material here was definitely not my cup of tea. Not the target audience for this.

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Nailing Down an Identity

Short stories are a difficult, creative technique. The writer must establish a setting, characters, plot and outcome in lesser pages than a novel. Escoffery chose a middle ground. We have a book of short stories linked through journeys in Jamaica and Florida.

The first short story is innovative. It sets up the place and the anguish of our main character. Trelawny is the second son (youngest) of a Jamaican American family living in Miami. From the very beginning, he cannot square-off his identity with other schoolboys. He is light skinned, his older brother, Delano is dark. His parents are mixed-raced and believe they are exceptional to those who are darker. Trelawney’s vagueness is a constant theme throughout the connected stories.

The family works hard to reach self-esteem. It is frustrating since the color of one’s skin becomes paramount to any success.
The book establishes the Jamaican influence; Jamaican patois and ethnic localities are peppered in the linked prose of cultural identity.

The dangerous burden and desire to just belong are raised to a pinnacle. When Hurricane Andrew arrives, stealing families from their homes and leaving more homeless traumatic and a symbolic culmination. The damage replicates the complexity of hope. It is a savvy book with many questions.

My gratitude to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for this pre-published book. All opinions expressed are my own.

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A different sort of short story collection. It's the linked tales of a family of Jamaican immigrants to the US,, largely helmed by Trelawny, the younger son. This reads as a novel for this reason and that's fine because he's a terrific character who is searching for his place in the world. Life isn't easy for him or for his family. It's atmospheric and thoughtful with wonderful writing- and heads up that there are sections of patois. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. A very good read.

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Many thanks to NetGalley, Farrar, Straus & Giroux MCD and Macmillan Audio for gifting me both a digital and audio ARC of this debut collection of short stories by Jonathan Escoffery and fabulously narrated by Torian Brackett - 4.5 stars!

This collection of connected short stories follows the life of Trelawny, son of Topper and Sanya, who flee the violence in their homeland of Kingston, Jamaica, to settle in Miami, Florida, along with Trelawny's older brother, Delano. While they thought this would be the answer to their prayers, the family's struggles are now just very different.

The first story in this book was probably my favorite, as we see that Trelawny is now judged by everyone he meets as being wrong - he's too white, too black, too different. While he considers himself an American, he is viewed very differently and doesn't fit in with any of the "groups" in his school or neighborhood. We see the dysfunctional family relationships between all of them. I felt bad for the pull of Trelawny of wanting to escape yet wanting to be accepted.

I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook and feeling immersed in the language and culture of Trelawny's life. There is so much to think about in this book.

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Thank you to NetGalley, Farrar, Straus and Giroux and the team at Macmillan Audio for gifting me with both an ARC and ALC of If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery. In exchange I offer my honest review.

I am a huge fan of interconnected short stories written in novel form, so I was very excited to try this debut. I will say the cover art and blurb from author Ann Patchett added to my anticipation and expectations. I initially started the book in e-galley form but quickly switched to the audio, where I became more engaged with the prose. While I know many readers frown upon author Junot Diaz, I happen to find his writing outstanding and I can clearly see an influence here in Escoffery’s pages. Our narrator is Trelawny, the youngest family member born to parents of Jamaican heritage, who have moved to Miami for a better life. Trelawny, born in the US feels like he doesn’t belong amongst his classmates, neighbors or even family. He’s constantly struggling with identity, colorism, nationality and acceptance. This theme of “what are you” reverberates throughout the semi linked stories. I did have trouble connecting with the style of writing in the beginning but at the midway point I became deeply absorbed in Trelawny’s world and found myself rooting for him. The audio narration was fantastic and really added to my enjoyment. Some stories worked better than others but overall this was a thoughtful, entertaining debut. I look forward to seeing what Escoffery writes next.

Book and audio are available September 6, 2022. Be sure to find a copy.

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An original and perceptive linked collective of short stories, this book explores the experiences of a Jamaican family as they navigate life primarily in Southern Florida and seek at first to succeed and then just to survive in the face of subtle and overt obstacles, from natural disasters, to economic downturns, to interpersonal conflict. As the hope of youth gives way to the disappointment of adulthood, Trelawny, the main character, and his family experience life trying for some security when insecurity looms at ever turn.

This is an interesting, powerful, and well-written collection of stories.

Highly recommended!

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Thank you Netgalley for this audio edition of If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery.

These are short stories, many of them centered around race, immigration, family, survival, and relationships. I really tried hard to dive into these essays, but I really struggled. I definitely had my moments where the book caught me, and I also learned some things, but unfortunately, I could not get into this.

I hate giving books like this a star rating because I truly feel like it's more of a "it's not you, it's me" situation, but here we are.

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