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"Exploring Black British Identity in "Manny and the Baby" by Varaidzo: A Book Review"

Manny and the Baby is a brilliant debut from Varaidzo, which exquisitely explores what it is to be black in the past and in more contemporary times. Varaidzo has done an amazing job at astutely showing great knowledge, warmth, passion, heart, and tenderness, that illuminates the complexity and lives of the characters divided by time, yet connections emerge, with so much remaining constant.

A grieving and unsettled Londoner, Itai, has lost his father, an ethnomusicology scholar, shocked when he learns he’s inherited a home in Bath, what possible link could his father have with this city? There he comes across tapes that open up and inform him of the life of his father, a past and a family history he knew nothing of.

We are taken on a journey on the lives of a smart, determined Manny, and her younger sister, Rita, also known as the Baby, chasing their dreams of writing and dancing in the 1930s with energy and verve, hoping to overcome the prevailing limitations of race and gender, wanting so much more than what life has to offer. We travel with them, the developments in their personal lives, hand in hand with that of the charismatic trumpeter and mimic, Ezekial Brown.

Incorporated throughout are the events of the period, the culture, arts, music, literary circles, exuberant political discussions, creative hustling, sweaty dancing, smoky Soho jazz clubs and the chaos of swapped identities.

Hanging over the trio with their painful impact are the police raids, the growing fascism and the threat of war, and a Ethiopian King, Selassie, moves to Bath, all bringing with them the tides of change that follow, grief and losses, one after another, the secrets between them.

Varaidzo shows how good intentions can exacerbate situations, and the cyclical nature of history as Itai retraces the same steps, recalibrating and forging a stronger understanding of his late father as he learns of his missing past, simultaneously establishing a fortuitous relationship with a young Josh. This is an extraordinary debut read that captivates and engages, beautifully written, with its memorable characters and their relationships, legacies, of how times change and yet nothing changes.

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