Contains spoilers

An Olive Grove in Ends is the debut novel by the young – and richly talented – author Moses McKenzie. Coming from Bristol himself, McKenzie paints a vivid picture of his neighbourhood and community of ‘Ends’ in Bristol and tells a coming-of-age tale following the young protagonist Sayon. The novel invites readers into a world of family loyalties, love, inner conflict, and Sayon’s journey to find where he wants to go.

McKenzie’s poetic and evocative prose draws you onto the streets of Sayon’s community, conjuring the atmosphere, sights, and voices of those surrounding him. The reader meets Sayon’s extended Jamaican family and the varying roles they play in his life. The characters in this novel are intricately drawn and many of the deep connections between characters make this story so full of life. Different aspects of Sayon’s family life are fractured and not without hardships, including incarceration and addiction. Indeed, Sayon’s own parents do not play a significantly positive role in his life. Instead, emphasis is placed upon the other guiding and important family members in his life. Sayon must be mindful of his seemingly all-knowing matriarchal grandmother and get pockets of wisdom from his cousin Hakim – notorious drug dealer turned devout Muslim family man. Crucially, the special bond between Sayon and his cousin Cuba remains pivotal to Sayon’s choices and direction in life.

Ever since he was a  young boy, Sayon has aspired to ‘get out’ of his area, gazing upon a specific house in a more affluent area of the city that he wishes to reside in himself one day. Yet the only way he recognises this as a viable possibility is by getting enough money through drug dealing to buy the house. Olive Grove deals with the lack of opportunities that Sayon – and many other Black British youth from less advantaged backgrounds – feel are available to them. McKenzie also illuminates interactions between Sayon’s community, the law and the role of racial prejudice. Olive Grove delves into the disparity of treatment that different areas of the city receive from law enforcement. In an interview on the novel, McKenzie makes clear how he wanted to demonstrate the reality of how racially segregated Bristol is. He sees Bristol as a character of its own, particularly one specific bubble of the city – one that bursts with Black Jamaican and Somali influence and culture. 

McKenzie’s novel is unwavering in its gritty depictions of Sayon’s life and the violence that can seep into those around him, reflecting the harsh realities of many. When a boy is killed, the fatality shakes up Sayon’s life plan and risks shattering the love between him and his long-term friend and now girlfriend Shona, the daughter of a local pastor. Throughout the novel, Sayon treads a careful and precarious line between the juxtaposition of a religious and moral world with Shona’s family and the crime surrounding his own life. McKenzie’s writing is littered with meditations on religion and faith, demonstrating the influence it can have in communities and on the protagonist. Sayon’s religious path takes him from disillusionment with one religion and eventually towards the slow embrace of another. Told through his writing, McKenzie delicately considers his own communities’ ties to Christianity and Islam.

An Olive Grove In Ends shines a light on a diverse Black British community, bursting with emotions and hope. Love and connections are importantly reflected as motivating forces in many of these characters’ lives as they grapple with where they want to be, and where they feel they can get. McKenzie adeptly portrays the nuances and realities of guilt, obligation, loyalty, aspirations, and the turbulence of personal journeys that these characters find themselves on.

Categories: Arts Books

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