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Johnson raised the negro as his ward until his death; he gave him his freedom and a generous pension, which Barber squandered.

At the end of the narrative, Barber, lying on the verge of death in a squalid pauper s hospital, offers poignant insight into the nature of freedom and otherness, insight that the journalist, despite good intentions, may not be prepared to receive. The second section, Made in Wales, is narrated in a hard-boiled third person that traces the rise and fall of Randy Turpin, the mixed-race boxer who beat Sugar Ray Leonard in to become, briefly, middleweight champion of the world, then fell, inevitably, the narrative suggests, into hapless debt and ruin.

Foreigners: Three English lives

The third, final, most riveting and beautifully written section, Northern Lights, is told by a chorus of voices who cobble together the mysterious life and death of David Oluwale, a 20th-century version of Bartleby, a stowaway from Nigeria who washes up in Leeds in and ends his life stubbornly homeless, willfully persecuted and in , drowned. Interestingly, Phillips goes into none of these three black men s consciousnesses or psyches.


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The reader stands some distance away from them with the narrators; except for Barber s piercing, frank lament, we don t get any direct emotional information from any of them. This narrative strategy is essential to the book s intent, as is, I suspect, the uneasiness it provoked in me along the way.

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Phillips gets at real-life complexities in a visceral, nondidactic way: there are no victims or heroes here. I finished the book hearing Melville s Ah humanity! The Lost Child. A View of the Empire at Sunset.

Foreigners: Three English Lives

Emily und Cambridge. Auf festem Grund. Yoruba boy from Lagos who, on arriving in Leeds, thought only in the future tense. And after she had passed you by it was time for you to leave Button Hill. You walked down Chapeltown Road towards the heart of your city.


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  8. Together, these three narratives form a partial portrait of the lives of black people in Britain, from the eighteenth century to the present day. First-person testimony from neighbours, acquaintances, clinicians and colleagues is interspersed with a panoramic, third-person narrative about the development of Leeds from a tiny township to a large industrial city, and the waves of migration, communitarian conflict, and against-the-odds conviviality that this growth occasioned.

    Foreigners: Three English lives | HeraldScotland

    In the passage from which I have quoted, a young black woman tells the story of her acquaintance with Oluwale. Hers is also the voice with which the story begins, and it establishes the terms of the ensuing narrative. Phillips never claims to known the truth of the Oluwale case — a legal controversy, which ran through the British courts over a number of years.

    Rather, through the accumulation of different voices, details are sketched in, and a fuller picture emerges.

    Even his so-called fiction cleaves to factual, historical detail, often taking the form of imaginative reconstruction or first-person, dramatic monologues. Foreigners does not just insist on the importance of a more diverse historical archive but explores how we might approach that archive, and the limitations of the historical gaze.