Archive for the ‘Caryl Phillips: The Final Passage’ Category

Caryl Phillips

January 8, 2010


The author of my novel “The Final Passage” is Caryl Phillips. He was born in St. Kitts, an Island located in the Leeward Islands, which is part of the federal two-island nation The federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. At the age of four months he came to Britain and grew up in Leeds, he studied English Literature at the Oxford University. Today he lives in London and New York.

His writings are for television, radio, theatre and cinema. He is the author of three works of non-fiction and ten novels (Crossing the River, In the Falling Snow…). In his work he tackles topics on the African slave trade from many perspectives. He has won numerous awards including the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book award and is regarded as one of the best British writers of your time. His most recent publication was the novel In the Falling Snow.

In addition the novel might reflect his own life since he dedicates it to his parents, and that the character of little Calvin might mirror himself… 






January 8, 2010

Personal Comment:

My first reading impression was a weird one, because the novel starts of with the end of the story. This was the reason why I found it particular difficult to understand the first couple of pages and the context of the story. The ensnared writing style did not make it easier to feel comfortable with the reading. It was easy to get lost in the time periods of the story due to the author’s time-switching style. A structured time line is not present, the author uses a lot of flashbacks. An example here would be the chapter where the story takes part in England, followed by a flashback from the passage to England on the ship.

But Caryl Phillips created also a style which makes it very easy to understand the feelings and situations of the main characters in the novel. The usage of the direct speech was chosen in a simple and urban way which made it very clear for me where the main characters came from. The direct speech uses many slang words, whereas the indirect speech is written in British English.

Reading the book in general was fun but in my opinion the novel did have a lack of tension, therefore I lost my fascination throughout the book.

To conclude I would like to say that the novel was fascinating to read and I never lost my will the fulfil my task. I enjoyed the time spent and I really benefited from the book. This was my first written piece of work from a black writer and it was interesting to see the differences.



Summary Part 5:

January 8, 2010


Part 5: WINTER (page181-205)

This chapter opens with the funeral of Leila’s mother. Harry and Mary are also there, Mary wishes that she had known Leila’s mother. Michael and Leila are not showing any kind of emotion, but then Leila shuts her eyes and starts crying.

One week later of the funeral Leila is worried about herself not having any money. Michael, who has given up his job to go into business with a friend, has stopped talking to his wife and gets drunk quite frequently again. Leila needs the money mainly to support the life of her son Calvin. She starts to become desperate for it and goes looking for a workplace. She finds work with the bus company, but on the first day she suffers from a nervous breakdown. Shortly after this incident, her doctor informs her that she is pregnant again. In addition she finds a blond hair on Michael’s jacket and therefore concludes him having an affair. Her first suspect is Mary, because she is blond haired and as on the island is her neighbour. To cope with these additional stress factors, her doctor decides to send her a social worker, called Miss Gordon, to help her with her life. The idea is to help Leila to forget the terrible time that she had, and therefore Miss Gordon comes over and spends a lot of time in Leila’s house. Leila’s life in England is very miserable and dull. Her daily procedure is that she starts off visiting her mother’s grave on the graveyard, then heading back to her house to fix Calvin some food; before she goes to bed she sits there and waits for darkness to arrive. Not a very hopeful bringing life. The only visitors and people she speaks to are Miss Gordon and her friend Mary. But since the funeral it seems to Leila that her friend Mary has begun to keep distance to her but also the differences between them become more and more obvious to her.

On a day-to-day basis she sees that her life is becoming more frustrating – she even declares her marriage for dead.

Leila spends her first Christmas in England alone with her son Calvin. She looks back at the time she had spent in England and everything comes clear to her mind. She realises that Michael will not be a part of her future life and she wishes him to leave soon. All the hope she brought to England has vanished. Moreover she feels sad for leaving her friends back on the small Caribbean island. She wants to go back desperately!

Summary Part 4:

January 8, 2010


Part 4: THE PASSAGE (page137-178)

This chapter describes 15 day voyage on the ship. They travel under bad conditions, for instance they have a small cabin. During the journey Leila has to care for her son and also for Michael. It can be described as a full- time job. When both men go to bed, Leila goes on deck and thinks peacefully about her mother.

On the next morning Michael and a group of men have a conversation about England and the Industrial Revolution. In addition they talk about the fact that they never see many white people.

Leila looks at the English landscape; everything seems bleak, there are no green mountains, no colourful dressed women, no trees, no wooden houses, the sea was not blue and there was no beach…

Everything is brand new – the English people have completely other lifestyles.

As they arrive at the Victoria Station, she knows that they are in London. All they have is the address of her mother and some money to start a new life. Michael and Leila feel very desperate and bumbling because they have never been to England before. The family take their first taxi ever and are off to find Leila’s mother. Everything is so new. Every house looks the same. They are really overstrained with the new situation. The search of her mother is more difficult than they thought. After some time, they find out that the mother is not at home and that she is in hospital.

Now they look for a room where they can settle down, but nobody wants to have blacks – the hard truth is that there are no vacancies for coloureds.

After being unsuccessful Leila wants to go to the hospital to visit her mother, while her husband tries to look for a job. A nurse in the hospital helps Leila to find shelter. The family finds a new home, a small dirty and cold one though.

Leila also realizes that her relationship with Michael is very miserable. Two weeks of nearly no communication on the ship has only served to deepen her distress.

Michael misses his friend Bradeth and he asks himself whether or not he will ever see him again. Michael has to come clear with his new future, not the past. Moreover he is not allowed to fail as this was his grandmother’s wish. There is no chance for him leaving this country with nothing.

A couple of weeks later Leila finds a neighbour, who might will be her friend. She is called Mary and a friendly and helpful woman, who also is older than Leila. They talk about Mary’s husband, called Harry, and about the war. Later they talk about children. Mary has two. She gives Leila advice for the next years with her child Calvin. She spends a lot of time with Mary. For example they go shopping together, they have tea together – but has to think back a lot to her life on the island. The two have some kind of mother – daughter connection.

The gap between Leila and Michael becomes bigger and bigger. This is mainly due to Michael dissociating himself more and more from Leila.

A couple of weeks later Leila finds herself waiting for her husband an entire evening. He does not come home. In the morning she wakes up by herself. She then finds him downstairs on the settee. He has slept there and now he has a hangover.

Michael decides to give up his work and wants to go with a friend (Edwin) in business. Leila and Michael have a big argument. Leila cannot understand him and how he will support the family without any money.

This chapter ends with this argument. Even after four months, nothing between them has changed

Summary Part 3:

January 8, 2010


Part 3: ENGLAND (page 121-134)

This chapter begins with the book talking about the school holidays. Leila has nothing else to do and for this reason she observes people on the street: she notices that coloured people do not drive big cars or wear suits. They seem to look sad and cold.

Then her eyesight catches a poster on a wall: “if you want a nigger neighbour vote labour.”

She recognizes that she has to work hard in this country if she wants to achieve something in her life.

Later that day, Leila is goes to visit her mother, who is in the hospital.

Michael comes and accompanies his wife to her mother. Her mother is in bad condition.

Michael goes for a walk and Leila has time to talk alone with her mother. She says that everything is okay in England (she doesn’t want to say the truth to her mother because her mother should not worry about her daughter) Leila tries to oppress her tears. But she cannot stand the pressure – the pain of illness, the pain of marriage and the pain of a journey across the world.

Not even their child Calvin brings Michael and Leila more together.

Leila has to realize that her “final passage” has failed and that she does not have a better life in Europe – her hopes are thwarted.

Then the reader gets more background information about Leila: her mother tells her that actually she did not want a child and that Leila is the product of an affair. And Leila has also never known her father. She was born the day war was declared in Europe.

But as Leila grew up her mother learned to love her more every day. Leila gives her force to live!

Leila goes to the hospital a few days later to bring her mother some flowers, but as she enters the room she does not find her mother lying in her bed. She questions herself for the reasons why her mother had to go. She never lost hope for her mother to regain her health, although she always knew that it was hopeless.

While Leila’s mother dies, Michael is somewhere unknown and Leila is not sure where he is. She goes to bed without him and tries to prevent herself from crying.

In this chapter, the reader gains more information about Leila and her mother rather than the new life in England…

Summary Part 2:

January 8, 2010


Part 2: „HOME“ (23-117)

This section of the novel begins with the „ intrinsically“ beginning of the story:

For example we get information about the sad life of their country – a small island of the British West Indies.

Leila talks about the bad behaviour of her husband Michael. She loves him, but she is unhappy with him. He has a bad appearance: he does not dress up well, drinks a lot of beer and has a slovenly life. Michael also has a friend, called Bradeth – Millie’s boyfriend. Many see Bradeth more as a giraffe than a man, because his body shape is long and thin. Michael employed by Bradeth and his work can be regarded as a curious job. But most time of the day the two men can be seen outside one of the small bars getting drunk on beer.

Bradeth sees this life as easygoing: sitting out in the sun and drinking beer, listening to music, talking and having a nice time.” But Michael does not think so. He has also fathered an illegitimate child.

In the evening, Michael and Bradeth get drunk again in a bar. Millie and Leila have to come and pick up their drunken husbands. The women are very disgruntled. Leila leaves by herself and does not care about Michael, because she has a lot of things to sort out with her mother. On the way home, she enjoys her “freedom” but in two days she will be married. Her mother is very ill and Leila prays for her. Then she has an argument with her mother because in her opinion Michael is not the right man for her daughter to marry. Michael loves himself too much and he will use her. She thinks that her daughter is blind for love. She cannot understand why such a girl wants to marry this man. Leila begins to cry. From that night on, the relationship between Leila and her mother changes…

Another shock follows: Millie discovers to be pregnant and Bradeth is disgusted. He is not convinced that he will marry Millie but he is going to support the child.

The story jumps to Michael: he lives with his grandmother, because his own parents have already passed away. His grandmother wants to bring Michael back onto the right path, because until now he hasn’t achieved any qualifications.

It is the night before the marriage: Michael is in his neighbour’s house; she is called Beverley and is a very beautiful girl. She has everybody’s sympathy and lives without her husband because he left her, but she has a chill called Ivor.

Michael spends some time with her. He even might make love with her…

His grandmother is very disappointed of her grandson because he had promised her that he will spend the night before his wedding at home with her. She wants to avoid that Michael makes any kind of nonsense. But he makes no mistake – he goes home. Here the reader can assert that Michael isn’t really happy with the wedding the next day, however he believes that Beverley has nothing to do with his doubtfulness.

Also it can be said that he has to be careful because some say Leila is too good for him and that she might call off the wedding

On the next day, Leila gets married. Although she is grateful with her lacy white dress, no atmosphere is created because nobody is in the mood for dancing or singing. More background information about the wedding is distributed throughout the text. Michael is the poor boy from this village and he is marrying the mulatto girl.

Michael seems unhappy on his wedding day, he has no attention for his wife and he starts drinking excessively. As a result of this, Leila is in the corner and cries. Michael approaches her but does not understand why she is crying. She is unhappy about her husband drinking so much that he will tend to forget the details of his own wedding. Leila also wants to know if Michael loves her, but he does not answer her question. His wife keeps crying and this makes him even angrier, he pours the rest of his drink in her face, turns around and leaves…

After the wedding Michael arrives at Beverley’s house. They have a dinner and beer together. Michael feels comfortable with her presents, because she understands things without him having to explain them.

But then Bradeth disturbs the two – he has to tell Michael important news: he says: “Leila just born you a next son.” At first Michael thinks it is a joke, but then he wants to celebrate the child’s birth with a drink. Michael leaves Beverley’s house to see the newborn child (called Calvin). In the following pages the reader receives information on how Michael and Leila manage their “new life” – it is clearly visible that Michael is overstrained with his son Calvin. Preferably he likes to run from his job as a father and sees Beverley every day. Meanwhile Leila spends a lot of time with her friends Bradeth and Millie together with the two babies. Bradeth then says that he decided to marry Millie and that they will leave the island to built up a new shop (at the beginning of this chapter he says that he will support his child but is unsure about marrying Millie). Leila is very happy for the couple, but nevertheless she is a little bit envious of them having the ideal relationship. Bradeth feels guilty about leaving Leila and Calvin by themselves (with the faithless husband Michael). But Leila has also news for her friends: “I think I’m going to England!” Leila finds life on the island increasingly unbearable and it is her wish to immigrate to England and to reunite with her mother (the reader gets information that Leila’s mother is gone to England. One day Leila is shocked to find her mother gone. A letter informs her that on doctor’s advice she has left for England in order to seek medical treatment there). Millie cannot belief this important news. But she wants to help her best friend. She wants to do everything for Leila to have a better life.

In the next hours Bradeth goes to look for Michael to tell him that he will marry Millie and about them leaving the island. He also tries to bring Michael to terms. Michael makes up his mind and realizes that he has made mistakes. He will try to treat his wife a better way and is not averse from the idea to immigrate to England.

The day of the departure from the island gets closer and closer. Leila is packing but Michael is doubtful if this is the right idea to go to England (he says: “leaving this place going make me feel old, you know, like leaving the safety of your family to go live with stranger.”) But then Michael says goodbye to his lovely grandmother who is very sad that her only grandson is leaving her. She hopes that he will come back some day. Michael is like a son to her since his parents died. She wants Michael to take good care of his girl and his child, because she thinks that Leila can help him to a good life if he treats her right.

Later that day, Millie and Bradeth go to Leila’s house. Millie wants to persuade Leila to stay on the island, but Leila is sure that her mother is going to die soon. Therefore Leila has to go!

Michael will miss Bradeth, perhaps more than he has yet realized. They drink their last drink together. Then it is time to say goodbye…

Summary Part 1:

January 8, 2010

by Caryl Phillips 

Caryl Phillips: The Final Passage

 “one of the literary giants of our time”-New York Times

 The Final Passage is Caryl Phillips’s first novel and tells the story of Leila, a nineteen-year-old woman living on a small Caribbean island in the 1950s. Her subsequent passage to England brings her face to face with the consequences of the decisions she has made to determine her life on her own terms (that is the summary of the novel). The story does contain a series of flashbacks mainly of Leila ´s past life in the Caribbean island.

The novel is divided into five chapters: “The End”, “Home”, “England”, “The Passage” and “Winter”


 Part 1: THE END (first 20 pages)

Unlike the most novels, this one starts of with an unusual feature; the reader gets to know the end of the story right at the beginning.

The novel opens with a picture of Leila, the main character of the story. Compared with the other islanders she stands out from the normal crowd due to her lighter skin tone and her good looks. She starts her story with her telling of how she immigrates to England. The reason for her decision is her unsatisfied situation on a small Caribbean island and her will to find a better life. She does not turn back from the sacrifices of leaving her friends when following her mother overseas. She also takes her restless husband Michael and her infant son Calvin with her.

She goes on talking about the exhausting journey and how she meets a young woman who keeps on trying to have a conversation. But Leila is too tired and therefore does not listen to her. The woman decides to take care of Calvin, so Leila can relax. The cause for her husband Michael not looking after her son is that he is an irresponsible, trustless and unfaithful young man (he is in his early twenties). Moreover all day long he is drunk and his main interest is sex!

Later in this chapter we get information about Millie, a more attractive and prettier black woman. She is Leila’s best friend and is like a sister to her. Leila cries because she has to abandon her only best friend. She feels sad for leaving her behind, but she has the hope that England is going to be a new beginning after all the pain of the last year. She has the desire to ease from all memories.

Leila also shows her fears: she is worried about her mother ´s health and is anxious about the racism from white women in England.

After saying goodbye to Millie, the journey begins. She describes in a few sentences the journey, for instance travelling with the slaves.

At the end of the chapter, she and Michael arrive in England. She says:” this small proud island, overburdened with vegetation and complacency, this had been her home”. But now she can begin a new hopeful start in England!

This chapter “the End” has an open end…

The Final Passage by Caryl Phillips

November 3, 2009