Reparations review from GKFA.COM


Holly Gordon

With his latest narrative pursuit, award-winning journalist and broadcaster Stephen Kimber brings his readers the naked story of Halifax’s doomed Africville.

It was a place at the edge of the city, a place of poverty and of rudimentary facilities – a place with no future. At least, that’s what the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, wanted its citizens to think of the small, basin-side community of Africville in the 1960s, when the city’s goal was to remove all of the community’s citizens and level the village.

In Reparations, Stephen Kimber shows his readers what it was truly like living at the harbor’s edge with a thrilling tale wrapped in racism, political corruption and hope.

The novel begins smack dab in the middle and, as the reader later discovers, everything else will begin that way.

The first scene reveals the death of a young child in the projects where displaced Africvillers squatted in 1976. Kimber writes from Patrick Donovan’s perspective, a reporter for Halifax’s Tribune. The scene doesn’t mesh with anything written later, and won’t until about three-quarters of the way through the book.
Reading Reparations is like walking down the main drag of a city and stopping in at every store along the way.

Chapter two jumps head first into 2002, to the spine of the story that holds all the characters together. Uhuru Melesse, formerly known as Raymond Carter before changing his name to something more historically significant in his black radical days, is defending a man who stole money from the city to pay reparations to local charities and community members who lived in Africville. Melesse must argue in court that yes, his client did steal the money, but he did it for a just cause and should not be punished.

Fittingly, Raymond is the son of Africville’s last schoolmaster. Kimber delves into Raymond’s family history and his father’s pride at being a citizen of Africville, giving the reader a sense of the humanity that existed in the poor but proud community. Raymond seems perfect to represent his client in the reparations case, but the truth is that his apathy has hit hard and he should’ve really changed his name from Uhuru Melesse a long time ago. His black pride days are over.

The judge for the trial is Ward Justice, former best friend of Raymond Carter in the days when playgrounds were cool and skin color didn’t matter. Ward didn’t know how the two drifted apart, but they did nonetheless. That’s not, however, what worried Ward. When he started his career as a lawyer, before he became a politician and later a judge, Ward unsuspectingly was part of a bribe to pay off Raymond’s father and have him leave Africville. As the community’s last tenant, Raymond’s father was the only person standing in the city’s way to demolish the town. Ward and Raymond also fell in love with the same woman – the woman who happens to be the mother of chapter one’s dead child.

Well-researched and incredibly detailed, Reparations is a trip through Africville, past and present, that no one should miss. Kimber takes us to the heart of the community, into its church and into its people, and then up to the south end of Halifax with its money, politicians, and corruption. He uses the smaller-scale city of Halifax to show how small this world truly is, and how everyone’s life affects another’s.

Reading Reparations is like walking down the main drag of a city and stopping in at every store along the way. Kimber presents the trial as that main drag and uses it to showcase the plethora of stories waiting for the reader at every step. The core storyline, although well-written and intriguing, is the least interesting part of the novel. The characters surrounding the trial are the show stealers, and the end leaves Kimber’s audience wanting to continue following the saga that is Africville in the 21st century.

Reparations (2006) – By Stephen Kimber – Published by HarperCollins