The Manley Memoirs by Beverly ManleyBy Dera Williams • Jan 7th, 2009 • Category: Book Review 2009 • Email This Post • Print This Post
Beverly Manley, former wife of the late Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley, has written a compelling memoir in The Manley Memoirs. Daughter of a railroad laborer and ladies’ man and a contentious mother who felt she had married down, Beverly grew up in the Jamaican countryside with her two older sisters and younger brother. The Anderson girl’s job was to get a good education and not shame the family despite moving often and enduring their parents’ tumultuous marriage compounded by their father’s “sweethearts.” The darkest of the three girls, Beverly was constantly reminded by her mother, who was always frustrated by her husband’s philandering, that she took after her father. Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, Beverly’s political awareness was awakened by accompanying her father, Eric, to political party meetings. Jamaica was on the verge of becoming an island nation that was gaining strides in independence from British rule.
After high school, Beverly took a job with a television station, traveled, lived and worked in London, returned to Jamaica, had her own talk show and met Michael Manley, son of Norman Manley, who came from a long-time, mixed-race, established Jamaican family. At first, Beverly resisted Manley’s flirtations; he had the reputation of being a big-time playboy and had already been married three times. Eighteen years her senior, there was also the class divisions that separated them. Though their social circles occasionally overlapped, the distinct caste systems were almost always adhered to and there was some initial disapproval when Beverly and Manley first became a couple.
Beverly and Michael Manley were the successful, power couple of the People’s National Party (PNP); attractive, wealthy (on paper), socially connected, the prime minister and his wife came to be known as a voice for the common people. This was also a time of growth for the First Lady; she led all kinds of causes, got several bills passed for the poor and disenfranchised, and children and went on to University to obtain a degree. Over the years though, her ideals and that of her husband, drifted apart, no longer aligned. Eventually, the discord among the PNP and the government took its toll on their marriage. When Manley finally lost his prime minister post in 1980, their life as they knew it changed on so many levels.
This was more than a memoir; it also encompassed cultural history, the political history, and social mores of Jamaica. Beverly Manley wrote frankly and forthright of her troubled relationship with her mother, the mistakes she made as a wife and mother, and of Jamaica’s troubled political process. I had the pleasure of meeting Beverly Manley when she had a book signing at the African American Library & Museum of Oakland this past fall. She is a regal, commanding woman who came from humble beginnings and became First Lady of her country to live an austere, colorful life This is a worthwhile read for those who are interested in Caribbean studies and for those who enjoy reading Jamaican literature.
Dera R. Williams
African American Literature
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Dera Williams is a writer and lives, works and plays in the Oakland/Bay Area where she works in curriculum at a local community college. She has contributed to several anthologies and journals including Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs and Honoring Our Black Fathers and has written academic profiles for Greenwood press reference books. She is a reviewer/editor for APOOO Exchange Team and Affaire de Coeur magazine and active in literary events. Her book club affiliations include Marcus Book Club, East Bay Page Turners Book Club and Women of Words Book Club. Her other interests include genealogy, Black history and culture and travel.
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