Born Abel Paisley, in Jamaica in 1936, Abel has lived for years as Stanford Solomon, the name by which his American wives and children know him. He is an old man dying in Harlem when the story opens. As the title suggests, ghosts from his past float in and out of “These Ghosts Are Family,” by Maisy Card, serving to tell the story of his life and those of his ancestors and descendants.
Years earlier, while working in London at a temporary job for desperately needed money to send to his family, he assumed the name of his fellow Jamaican, Stanford Solomon, after Solomon was killed in a construction accident. Abel found this a convenient way to leave behind an unsatisfying life that included his shrewish wife and two baby children.
As Abel confronts his death, he seeks and meets Irene, the daughter he abandoned in Jamaica when she was a baby. She has moved to America and has a family, also living in Harlem.
Each character presented in the story shares a connection to Abel, even Debbie, a budding art curator living in Atlanta. She learns of her connection to Abel because of a diary from 1815 that belonged to a cruel landowner. He wrote of the matter-of-fact-method used to murder Debbie’s great-great-grandmother, a plantation slave. When Debbie travels to Jamaica for further research, she meets the ancestors of Abel with whom she shares a past. Increasingly, her life becomes intertwined with theirs.
Jamaican dialect, where appropriate, adds authenticity to the story. The chapters begin with names and dates that provide context to the events unfolding in each chapter.
“These Ghosts are Family” is a novel of immigration and ancestry. The book defines the interrelatedness we may have to people we meet who are of our heritage. It is an absorbing story, and the ability of the author to tie her characters together is masterful. This is a first book by Card, a librarian and writer.