Jamaica Magazine

Book Review: Barrel Child

About the Book
The term ‘Barrel Child’ refers to parents who leave their child/ren in their homeland with family and venture out to the more developed countries to seek a better life and in return send barrels of food and clothing, and remittances back to their homeland to support their children.   The story is about a young girl Sara coming to Brooklyn from Jamaica to meet her mother for the first time in 13 years.  The book delves into the feelings of abandonment and mistrust that barrel children often harbor and the difficult family dynamics that come into play – immigration, cultural clash, and generational behaviors.

Review by Carol Strachan

Barrel Child is the term which refers to the child whose parent -frequently the mother- makes the decision to leave their young offspring and homeland in search of a better life, usually because of unfavorable economic conditions. The child is left in the care of aunts or grandparents, while the parent who has migrated routinely ships barrels filled with consumer goods to the child, the contents of the barrel becoming a metaphor and often literal replacement for the physical bond.

Pamela K. Marshall is a commanding storyteller whose first book “Barrel Child” weaves an authentic tale of the complexities of the lives of West Indian “barrel children” and their families.
This  fast-moving novel depicts the heart-wrenching situations and decisions that these children face through the fully fleshed-out characters of the protagonists, Sara Lewis and Will Lowe, who emigrate from their native Jamaica at the ages of eighteen and sixteen to join their respective mothers in New York, with Sara leaving a secret behind.

Through this gripping and compelling narrative, the reader has a front row seat to the dramatic struggles and satisfying triumphs – from the raw intensity of mother-child clashes, to depression, betrayal, and a coming-of-age love story – all interspersed with touches of humor.

Sara’s domineering mother, Lea, is portrayed simultaneously as villain (blamed for child abandonment), victim (abandoned by the man who impregnated her), and hero (credited with the sacrifices necessary to financially provide for Sara). Sara’s resentment toward Lea is palpable, and conflict between Sara and her mother ensues as she rejects all of Lea’s admonishments.

“Barrel Child” entertains and, whether intentionally or unwittingly, may provoke the reader to contemplate certain imbalances in societal norms: the irony of Sara’s hostility toward her mother for leaving her, yet calmly accepting her father’s abandonment; the norms which absolve some absent fathers of responsibility or obligation even as migrating mothers, seeking financial stability, are criticized for leaving their children to be raised by relatives.

Marshall’s skillful plot leaves the reader wishing this story never ends. Fortunately, “Barrel Child” is a first-in-a-series novel, so readers will be able to continue following the eventful lives of Sara, Will and their family. –

About the Author
Pamela K Marshall grew up in Jamaica and went on to spend her young adult years in Brooklyn New York – which she says was like living in Jamaica, only colder in the winter.She is a past student of the Franklin Town Primary, the Mico Practicing All Age and the Kingston Technical High schools.Pamela holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Managerial Accounting from the City University of New York Baccalaureate Program at Brooklyn College and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Howard University.Living in Brooklyn brought her in direct contact with many Caribbean immigrants and their descendants and she was moved by their original stories. This inspired her to become a Social Worker and to write and independently publish a novel,  Barrel Child (2011), that highlights their family experiences.  Her second novel is expected in November 2013.Pamela resides in Northern Virginia with her family.

Where to buy the book
Barrel Child can be purchased on Amazon.com

About the author

Staff Writer