Things I Have Withheld

Literary chameleon Kei Miller (The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion) has produced award-winning short stories, novels, poetry and essays. Things I Have Withheld is arguably his most stupendous title to date. These 14 exquisitely vulnerable essays explore his Jamaican heritage, his British residency, his worldwide travels. Divulging searing conversations he's self-silenced, Miller--a globe-trotting gay Black man--produces a magnificent examination of race, sexuality and identity. "The moments when I am most in need of words are exactly the moments when I lose faith in them," he writes. Reading Miller is an act of empathy: "I suspect it is the same for a great many of us. We keep things to ourselves. We withhold them because of fear."

Miller begins with a call for assistance from James Baldwin: "I think everything of your essays and it is essays that I have been trying to write but have stopped and need your help"--especially regarding confrontations he's repeatedly eschewed about careless racism. In the standout "Mr Brown, Mrs White and Ms Black," three Jamaican neighbors anticipating an upcoming party contemplate experiences based solely on their skin color. Other essays reveal family secrets about ancestry; crimes against Black bodies and women's bodies; presumptions outsiders vocalize to and about Jamaicans; the fine line between homophobia and belonging; white entitlement and appropriation.

As a gay Black man from a Caribbean island working as "a full-fledged professor" in Britain--a historical center of colonialism--Miller by necessity has become especially facile in code-switching. His written language effortlessly adapts as he slips from his "own Jamaican patois" to adaptations and mannerisms necessary to deal with various locations, situations, communities. What he produces from such experiences is a wrenching record--gorgeously encapsulated--of what he's had to withhold to survive. Filling the silence proves lifesaving. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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