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Beverly East Launches Bat Mitzvah Girl

Beverly East (left) and Carolyn Cooper

As the sun set over Kingston on Thursday night, December 6, Beverly East launched her memoir Bat Mitzvah Girl: Memories of a Jamaican Child. Bat Mitzvah Girl is East’s third book as she previously authored Reaper of Souls and Finding Mr. Write. If the two readings East delivered on Thursday are reflective of the rest of the book it is written with wit and insight,

Bat Mitzvah Girl isn’t the first time that East is mining her history for literary fodder. Reaper of Souls, though based on an fictional family is grounded in facts, much of it from her family. Bat Mitzvah Girl seems a strange for the story about a black Jamaican/British child. However, it pays homage to East’s ties to a Jewish family who were her neighbours and provided her with a second home to that of her parents.  

“I felt that family gave me every thing but a Bat Mitzvah,” East explains. The Bat Mitzvah is the Jewish female coming of age ceremony and East notes that when she turned 12, the four sisters would have held such a ceremony for her, but her father, a Garveyite, put his foot down. She explains that in her childhood in mornings her mother would comb her hair and then she would be off to their house where she ate and dressed for school.

“I was Jamaican at weekends and Jewish on weekdays,” she says. East also revealed that  at one point she would only eat their food as she “didn’t want to smell Jamaican”. This bid, to un-Jamaicanize herself came after she was teased by a boy at all-white school she attended. In one of the segments she read, she chronicles how the four sisters came to her aid when she was being bullied at school with no intervention from the heads of the school.

“Usually when white people are looking after black kids it’s because there is some kind of dysfunction, but I had a very functional family,” East explained. Bat Mitzvah Girl therefore explores this extended family which was bound by affection if not by blood.

“I didn’t realized that it was even a story to turn into a book, but after Reaper of Souls, people related to me with all the grief so I just wanted to show the other side of my life,” she said. East also explained that she had not been personally affected by the events chronicled in Reaper of Souls.

East also revealed that she does not intend to only write family and personal history and so her next book will be very different.

“I want to do some contemporary writing. Something sensual,” she says. “It’s all in my head, but its just finding the time to write it.”

Thursday’s launch at the Jamaica Pegasus was hosted by Professor Carolyn Cooper. It marked Bat Mitzvah Girl’s entry into the Jamaican market. The book had been launched in Washington DC in November and East will be taking it to London, New York, Rome and Paris next year.

Bat Mitzvah Girl is published by Advocate House, a division of Acapela Publishing.