This slim volume tackles a large issue: the lifelong consequences of failing to report and confront childhood abuse. Set in Jamaica and England some time in the 20th century, the novel focuses on the relationship between Gemima Finley, a British physician’s assistant, and Rhoza Brown, a child abandoned by her mother when she was only months old. Written in an innocent voice, with an almost childlike cadence, the novel is presented simply and touches on the milestones in Rhoza’s life.
Gemima, happily married to an older man, a doctor, notices Rhoza at one of the grand houses of Jamaica, essentially working as a slave, though she is only four years old. Rhoza becomes Gemima’s project, and eventually Gemima is able to reunite Rhoza with her grandmother. When Rhoza is just six, she is raped — and will be raped repeatedly throughout her teen years — but she tells no one, including Gemima, who by this time has become Rhoza’s mother, for all practical purposes. At one point, Rhoza reconnects with her biological mother in England, but the results are so disastrous that the child is sent back to Jamaica.
Having earned a college degree, Rhoza returns to England where she meets and marries Robert and bears his children. But again, she suffers abuse, keeping silent about all she’s endured over decades; Rhoza is a person who has accepted unhappiness and foul treatment, always doing the right thing for others, though seldom for herself.
Author Nannah Marnie-Claire’s writing is straightforward; it’s the dire circumstances, rather than powerful artistic style, that convey Rhoza’s silent desperation. The characters come across as line drawings rather than rich, layered portraits because the author focuses largely on the periods of abuse and depression in Rhoza’s story, rather than including a fuller window into her life.
Despite all, Rhoza’s plight will touch readers’ hearts, and those interested in this critical issue will find food for thought.