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This review is taken from PN Review 267, Volume 49 Number 1, September - October 2022.

Cover of Song for Almeyda & Song for Anninho
Nell OsborneGayl Jones, Song for Almeyda & Song for Anninho (Virago) £12.99
Gayl Jones, known predominately as a fiction writer, gained widespread attention in the mid-1970s. She later disappeared from the public eye entirely. In 2021, Virago published Jones’s first new novel for over twenty years, Palmares, named after the autonomous state in northeastern Brazil formed by fugitive black slaves from 1630–94. The novel is narrated from the perspective of a literate, enslaved black girl, Almeyda, who is later liberated and lives in Palmares as a free woman. Here she meets her husband, Anninho. When Palmares is attacked and destroyed by Portuguese colonisers, the lovers are violently separated. Song for Almeyda & Song for Anninho is a poetic companion piece to Palmares – or more accurately, both are part of Jones’s extensive research on, and imaginative engagement with, African life in seventeenth-century Brazil. The book consists of two distinct sequences. These are narrative poem assemblages; the first features a range of voices in dialogue, whilst the second is a dramatic monologue punctuated with remembered and imagined speech.

Song for Almeyda & Song for Anninho begins with an extract from a historical document, Petition presented to His Majesty by Domingos Jorge Velho, ‘field master’ in the campaign against Palmares, published in 1695: ‘It is indeed true that the force and stronghold of the Negroes of Palmares located in the famous Barriga range is conquered… and the survivors scattered… Yet one should not therefore think that this war is ended.’ This positions us at a particular historical juncture: Palmares must now be rebuilt from the ground up. Jones’s book is divided into ‘Song for Almeyda’ and ‘Song for Anninho’ – these missives ...

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