Kerry Young was thrilled when she received an invitation to read at the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica late last month. After more than four decades living in Britain, she still calls Jamaica home. Pao, her first novel, inspired by her father, had been nominated for the 2012 Commonwealth Writers Prize. It revelled in her Chinese-Jamaican heritage and was written in the native patois that Jamaicans treasure.
Young bounced onto the outdoor stage. Behind her, a stiff breeze swirled the sea into frothy waves. In front, an audience of 2,000 eyed her expectantly. She almost lost her nerve. “What did I think I was doing?” she said, in an interview later that day. “What kind of audacity made me think I could speak to these people in their language when I hadn’t lived in Jamaica for years!” Still, the reading was a triumph; and afterward, Young’s new fans stormed the bookstore next door, which promptly sold out of her title.