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Book Review: Finding Samuel Lowe

Title: Finding Samuel Lowe by Paula Williams Madison

Genre: Memoir

The story: Paula Williams Madison's mother was half-Jamaican and half-Chinese. Her grandfather, the Samuel Lowe referenced in the title, was a Hakka Chinese man who owned a general store in Jamaica in the early 20th century. Eventually, he began a relationship and had a baby -- Paula's mother -- with a Jamaican woman. This happy family idyll shattered when Samuel's family sent him a Chinese bride. Infuriated, his common law Jamaican wife took their child and hid her in the countryside to ensure that she would have no contact with her father again. More than sixty years later, Paula Williams Madison set out to trace her mysterious Chinese grandfather and locate her aunts, uncles, and cousins still living in China.

My Review: I love books that transport me to new and different places, and this book delivered in a big way. The author's meticulous research transported me into the life of an immigrant shopkeeper in Jamaica in the early 20th century. It taught me about Jamaican history, Hakka Chinese culture, how slavery affected concepts of family in Afro-Caribbean communities, and even what it was like to grow up poor in Harlem during the Civil Rights Movement. The book flags a little when the author tries to fit the entire history of 20th century China into a couple chapters, but that one flaw is easy to overlook. This is a complex story with a happy ending, and very enjoyable to read.
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