In brief: If I Survive You; The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes; Home/Land – review

An impressive novel about a Jamaican family’s escape to the US; a fascinating investigation of a Victorian scrapbook; and a memoir about a post-Trump move to London from New York

If I Survive You

Jonathan Escoffery
Fourth Estate, £14.99, pp272

Humour and a flair for second-person narration illuminate the experiences of a Jamaican family living in Miami in this invigorating series of linked stories. Topper and Sanya flee to the US when political unrest engulfs Kingston in 1979, but the collection really belongs to the youngest of their two sons, Trelawny, a bookish boy whose pale skin means that he is, from a young age, compelled to answer the question “What are you?” Its implications trail him to the midwest, where he attends a liberal art college, and into a succession of bizarre, sometimes questionable jobs that he is forced to take to make ends meet. Despite a financial crisis and a hurricane, hope flickers amid the trauma and turbulence. A commanding debut from a talent to watch.

The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes: Secrets from a Victorian Woman’s Wardrobe

Kate Strasdin
Chatto & Windus, £22, pp320

At the centre of this questing and poignant social history is an album covered in pink silk, its blue pages filled with 2,000 scraps of fabric. Each fragment bears its own neatly inscribed label and a 19th-century date but who compiled it? Strasdin, a lecturer in cultural studies and costume aficionado, was determined to solve this “beautiful mystery” and her sleuthing has led her to Anne Sykes, a Lancashire woman who for 50 years preserved swatches of the wool, silk, cotton and lace from which her friends and family had their garments made. These fragments tee up true tales of merchant life, pirates and princesses, memorialising the networks of female companionship that Anne built as her life shifted from the industrial north to Singapore and Shanghai.

Home/Land: A Memoir of Departure and Return

Rebecca Mead
Grove Press UK, £9.99, pp240 (paperback)

In the dazed wake of 2016’s US election, adoptive New Yorker Mead and her husband decided to move with their 13-year-old son to London. Mead was born there but grew up in Weymouth and left for the US as a young graduate, making this midlife relocation not so much a homecoming as a disconcerting voyage of discovery. Meditations on the city she has left behind and the enchanted life she built there dovetail with an exploration of her new metropolis, its contemporary quirks and its famous past. She captures shifting moods with precision, while a lively interplay of ambivalence and curiosity yields insights into the meaning of home and the ways in which the chronology of our lives becomes intimately enmeshed with ever-changing urban backdrops.

• To order If I Survive You, The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes or Home/Land go to Delivery charges may apply


Hephzibah Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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