Written by:

  • Paperback
  • ISBN 9780452274839
  • 176 Pages
  • Plume
  • Adult


Ever since Abeng was first published in 1984, Michelle Cliff has steadily become a literary force. Her novels evoke both the clearly delineated hierarchies of colonial Jamaica and the subtleties of present-day island life. Nowhere is her power felt more than in Clare Savage, her Jamaican heroine, who appeared, already grown, in No Telephone to Heaven. Abeng is a kind of prequel to that highly-acclaimed novel and is a small masterpiece in its own right. Here Clare is twelve years old, the light-skinned daughter of a middle-class family, growing up among the complex contradictions of class versus color, blood versus history, harsh reality versus delusion, in a colonized country. In language that surrounds us with a richness of meaning and voices, the several strands of young Clare’s heritage are explored: the Maroons, who used the conch shell—the abeng&#151to pass messages as they fought a guerilla struggle against their English enslavers; and the legacy of Clare’s white great-great-grandfater, Judge Savage, who burned his hundred slaves on the eve of their emancipation. A lyrical, explosive coming-of-age story combined with a provocative retelling of the colonial history of Jamaica, this novel is a triumph.


“Powerful and often lyric … an important work.”
Library Journal

“The beauty and authority of her writing are coupled with profound insight.”
—Toni Morrison

“Her keen eye for detail and pithy anecdotal descriptions bring Jamaica’s present and past to life.”
New York Times Book Review

“Jamaican history, lore, and lanscape are evocatively re-created in this multilayered novel. &#133 Through its richness and diversity of detail, Abeng achieves a timeless universality.”
Publisher’s Weekly

Abeng is a solid achievement, a book that offers a wealth of history and culture. … [Cliff’s] perception of character, her receptivity to sensuous detail, her rendering of the language, make our journey … a richly textured experience.”