Joyce Gladwell, Macmillan Caribbean, 2003 Caribbean Classics

Brown Face Big MasterThis work was first published in 1969 in England by InterVarsity Press. It’s a biography in which the author provides an intimate account of her early life in Jamaica and her time in England where she attended University. The story takes the reader into the heart and mind of the author as she engages in moral and spiritual struggles. While in England she met and eventually married an Englishman. The author does not shy away from the difficult times at a strictly ordered private school in her home country nor from the burdensome realities of discrimination which were very much part of her sojourn in England.

The book begins with a description of her early childhood in an area called Harewood, a small farming district in Jamaica. Joyce and her twin sister lived a somewhat sheltered life. Both parents were teachers and active in the community, caring for those around them and sensitive to matters of social justice. Skin colour had significant social implications. To be black was “undesirable” lighter skin was more acceptable – brown was good, white face even better. This hierarchy of colour generated a discriminatory attitude in the life of the author that was bound to be trouble: the trouble of internal conflict and the trouble of social acceptance.

The years at St. Hilary’s, a very English boarding school for girls about fifty miles from her home in Harewood, had a significant shaping influence on Gladwell as she lived through her teenaged years. St. Hillary’s despite its “severe moral climate” served well the academic preparation that benefited Gladwell when she fulfilled her long ambition and went to study at London University. Sensitivity to spiritual life was a key component in the author’s journey. At age 13 while at St. Hillary’s she read Frances Thomson’s poem The Hound of Heaven. That poem served as a mirror in which her own inner struggles were discerned revealing her inclination “… to seek satisfaction in God’s good gifts and in His creatures rather than in Himself…” (p.97) Interest in spiritual life was nurtured while a student in England. New understandings of the Bible and new friends, thoughtful, intelligent committed friends who took seriously their personal relationship with God. With these new “glimmers of understanding my old quarrel against God faded”. (p.124)

It was though the Christian Union that she met and eventually married Graham, a marriage at first resisted by his parents. Though the family situation was sorted out the challenges did not disappear. The disappointments continued and the liabilities of a “brown face” in a white-faced culture seemed to be ever present. Gladwell though often hurt by unkind remarks, uncomfortable with the drudgery of household routines and burdened by the efforts needed to fit into a foreign culture was nevertheless sustained by her faith and undaunted in her resolve to deal with the challenges she encountered.

This is a courageous book beautifully written, crafted in humility of spirit and transparency of heart that cannot help but reward the reader. Joyce who worked as a Marriage and Family Therapist and her husband Graham who taught mathematics at University of Waterloo, have lived in Canada since 1969.

In a best-selling book called The Outliers there is an Epilogue titled, A Jamaican Story. It’s a story told by Malcolm Gladwell about his mother Joyce. In this context the story serves to illustrate the main point of his book – those who succeed do so not as isolated individuals but as members of a community sustained, influenced and supported in ways they are not always aware of.