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Coming to England Review by Dominic Duke
on 1 June 1999
Coming to England is an autobiographical book about the hardships Floella Benjamin and her family went through when immigrating to England from Trinidad.
The story begins with a detailed description of life in Trinidad in the 60's. Her memories of childhood in Trinidad were happy, she was part of a large family living in a nice house and life to her seemed very enjoyable. At her school, they would often discuss what they thought life in England was like as Trinidad used to be a British colony. They all had the idea that the streets were paved with gold and she remembers that every so often, families would disappear having immigrating to England in search of a better life. This is what Floella's family eventually did.
Her father was a very talented jazz musician and always had a dream of touring, playing his saxophone. He decided to leave Trinidad and see how things would fair for him in England. He went on ahead of his family and would send for them once he had settled with a job and somewhere to live. After about two years, the family was completely reunited and settled to live in England.
A major theme in the book is the racism, which she and her family encounter as soon as they arrive in England. Racism was unheard of in Trinidad, but it quickly dawned on her how cruel the world can be, this did not just go on at school, but they were racially abused by the neighbours, colleagues at work and the community.
The main character in the book is obviously Floella Benjamin herself. Although was a told quite a lot about the personality of certain characters in the book, they are never described physically. She has a lively extrovert personality; she is academic at school and enjoys sport. She is a hard worker because she feels that to overcome prejudice at school she has to prove that she is just as good as the English children. After managing to become captain of the running team and leading them to victory she was supposed to take the trophy home but she was refused this because of her colour. Another incident she remembers is the teacher shouting at her because she was not speaking the 'Queens English' but had too much of a Trinidadian accent. She is a spiritual person and has the idea that the sun warms her soul. Her sister goes to the same school and they look out for each other, she feels protective and wants to look after her family.
Another major character in the book is Floella's mother who she refers to as 'Marmie'. Again, we are not told what she physically looks like. She is a strong woman who is obviously the head of the family. She is a supportive mother who is also a very good cook. She is very tough and completely in control, she would take all seven children out on trips for their education whenever possible. She would give her children good advice on how to combat the racism that they faced; she was a mother that they could go to with any sort of problem.
Two people that Floella spends some time with are her Aunt and Uncle. These two people were not in fact, their real relations but friends that they called Aunt and Uncle out of respect. When her parents go off to England four of the children are left in Trinidad. Two are sent south to relations and Floella and her sister Sandra, are sent to these people in the north of Trinidad. This was a bad time for Floella, as soon as her parents left them they were treated rather harshly. They were made to get up at 5am, to work hard before and after school and were not given much food. Their Aunt censored any letters that were written. Although those fifteen months were a long and unhappy experience they didn't leave any lasting scars on her.
This book is quite interesting, but I think that it was written for a younger age group ideally around 10. The story flowed very well and it didn't really become tiresome because something new was always developing. However, I find it strange that an adult can remember so many details about her childhood. Its not a very humorous book because it covers the subject of racism in great detail.
I think many people can relate to this story because it shows that racism has been around for a long time and there are many people who still have hostile views towards people who are different. People are still judging others on their looks and forget that they are also human beings. I feel this book is quite inspiring because Floella Benjamin has become a very well known face to children's television, which goes to show that hard work and determination will pay off.
I did enjoy reading this book because it was quite short and the story moved along quickly. It is a believable book, but I still can't believe the intricate details she went into when describing her early life. There are certain points in the story that were thought provoking. Overall, this book was quite easy to read and understand and I would recommend it to anyone my age wanting an effortless read.
By Dominic Duke