“Where are you from?” was the question hounding Hazel Carby as a girl in post–World War II London. One of the so-called brown babies of the Windrush generation, born to a Jamaican father and Welsh mother, Carby’s place in her home, her neighbourhood, and her country of birth was always in doubt.
Emerging from this setting, Carby untangles the threads connecting members of her family to each other in a web woven by the British Empire across the Atlantic. We meet Carby’s working-class grandmother Beatrice, a seamstress challenged by poverty and disease. In England, she was thrilled by the cosmopolitan fantasies of empire, by cities built with slave-trade profits, and by street peddlers selling fashionable Jamaican delicacies. In Jamaica, we follow the lives of both the “white Carbys” and the “black Carbys,” as Mary Ivey, a free woman of colour, whose children are fathered by Lilly Carby, a British soldier who arrived in Jamaica in 1789 to be absorbed into the plantation aristocracy. And we discover the hidden stories of Bridget and Nancy, two women owned by Lilly who survived the Middle Passage from Africa to the Caribbean.
Moving between the Jamaican plantations, the hills of Devon, the port cities of Bristol, Cardiff, and Kingston, and the working-class estates of South London, Carby’s family story is at once an intimate personal history and a sweeping summation of the violent entanglement of two islands. In charting British empire’s interweaving of capital and bodies, public language and private feeling, Carby will find herself reckoning with what she can tell, what she can remember, and what she can bear to know.
“This beautifully written book raises the bar for political life-writing. Hazel Carby invites readers to follow a reconstructive quest propelled by memory, archive and imagination. It is a journey of discovery that forcefully contextualises the injustice dished out by British governments to the ‘Windrush generation’ and their rebel offspring. Carby disrupts fixed notions of racial identity that contort our understanding of Britain’s colonial and postcolonial history.”
“Angry and lyrical, uncompromising and vivid, Imperial Intimacies is a daughter’s reckoning with the bitter legacies of slavery and colonialism as they come to shape the lives of families and individuals, their dreams and desires. A deeply searching and often moving book, it made me think again about the writing of family history and about what it means to be British.”
“An elegant memoir which pivots beautifully around those twin imposters, ‘belonging’ and ‘home’. Richly suffused with a love of people and place, Carby’s familiar intellectual rigor never lets us drift off course towards nostalgia.”
“A heartbreaking and beautiful account of growing-up in the impossible space between mutually exclusive terms—Black and British. The history of empire, slavery and colonialism unfolds in the exquisite and painful details of this unflinching auto-portrait. Carby deftly captures the ways that relations of power are lived, intimately, quietly, destructively, and profoundly. What an achievement.”