“Just two years shy of thirty, Patsy has nothing to show for it besides the flimsy brown envelope that she uses to shade herself from the white-hot glare of the sun. the envelope contains all her papers — from birth certificate to vaccination records. But most importantly, it carries her dream, a dream every Jamaican of a certain social ranking shares: boarding an airplane to America. For the destination, and for the ability to fly.” – Nicole Dennis-Benn
Patsy is a book that chronicles the life of the protagonist Patsy, who leaves Jamaica to chase the America dream. Her leaving for ‘green pastures’ means leaving her daughter behind. This shock is a wonderful plot device as it forces readers to examine their socialised understanding of motherhood and what ideal mothering looks like. Throughout the story, we were taken on a haunting journey that both answers and asks questions about those who make the pilgrimage for a better life and those who stay. This is an immigrant story but not for the western gaze.
In a true reflection of her prodigious talent, Nicole confronts difficult themes with grace and humanity asking the readers to push themselves beyond their ideas of what it takes to make a difficult decision.
In a poignant, thoughtful and exciting podcast, The Cheeky Natives sat with the brilliant Nicole Dennis-Benn to explore the themes of isolation, abandonment, immigration, the ‘American dream’, racism, homophobia and the challenges of being Black, alive and queer in any space.
In some parts, this conversation was an exploration of the weight it takes to be a difficult woman making selfish decisions and in many other parts, it was excavation on the intersection of race, sexuality, immigration and the weight of becoming.
Nicole Dennis-Benn is a brilliant writer giving voice and documenting the untold stories of the ‘undocumented’. In this conversation, The Cheeky Natives excavated her politics, writing and what it means to hold the weight of an entire community’s expectation.
Her previous debut was ‘Here comes the sun’ which was heralded as exploitation of racism, sexuality and other difficult themes. She continues to do the important work in her sophomore novel. Fresh off her second visit to Open Book Festival in Cape Town, The Cheeky Natives were thrilled to have this conversation before the launch of her latest work in Johannesburg.
A review in the New York Times affirms that “You’ll come to know Nicole Dennis-Benn’s characters as intimately as you would a lover. They are refined in their humanity and depth.”