Marika Sherwood - Claudia Jones: A Life In Exile

Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile - Marika Sherwood

I picked up this book because it was supposed to be a biography of the woman who created Notting Hill Carnival. I was so disappointed.

The authors tried so very hard to present Claudia Jones as this amazing woman loved by masses but I didn't see any facts to back it up. She was a hardcore communist full of praise for Stalin and Mao, so that made me gag a little, even though I was trying to look at it objectively taking in consideration the times and her upbringing. Obviously to many people in the US and Western Europe communism seemed the way forward. However, half of the book read like a communist pamphlet characterized by a heavy abuse of the word 'comrade'. And in fact, it was just boring.

The second half of the book is a transcript of 1996 Claudia Jones Symposium and that's when the fun begins. Everyone gathered there to say nice things about Claudia but you can tell some are really struggling. Most of them seem to be really careful not to say what they really mean to say. Towards the end they start bringing up some old rifts and schisms and forget they are even supposed to talk about Claudia Jones. Sweet.

As for the main thesis - that Claudia Jones started Notting Hill Carnival, it turns out it is actually a thesis that needs to be defended. I wasn't aware of this but according to some other book which has a status of Notting Hill Carnival Bible it was someone else who started the whole thing. God forbid, a WHITE woman actually. So here are the facts: Claudia Jones started some sort of annual Caribbean themed party, but it wasn't in August but in February, it wasn't a street parade but indoor concerts and beauty contests, it didn't have floats, and it wasn't even in Notting Hill at all. So seriously? Now, this other woman started a street carnival in Notting Hill, that had live bands, and floats, and took place in August. I learnt all that from a book that maintains that Claudia Jones started Notting Hill Carnival. I am confused.

I understand that book was not meant to be read by people like me. It was written for that circle of people who appear in the book so they can continue to bicker and split hairs.