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Beka Lamb
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message 1: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (last edited May 15, 2020 09:38AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12845 comments Start discussion here for Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell.


About the Book

Set in Belize, Beka Lamb is the record of a few months in the life of Beka and her family. The politics of the small colony, the influence of the matriarchal society and the dominating presence of the Catholic Church are woven into the fabric of the story to provide a compelling portrait of ordinary life in Belize.

Beka Lamb is Zee Edgell’s debut novel. It tells the title character’s story—and her dealings with racial prejudice, social insecurity and religion. It was published in 1982 as part of the Heinemann Caribbean Writers Series and won the 1982 Fawcett Society Book Prize. Beka Lamb is a landmark book, as it is one of the earliest novels from Belize which gained international recognition and critical acclaim. It is praised for its setting—a society moving from colonialism to independence.

The book is set in 1950s Belize. Our protagonist, Beka Lamb, is 14 when the novel opens. The story is, however, told entirely using flashbacks, so the reader knows how the problems and conflicts developed in the text will turn out. This makes Beka Lamb a useful text for studying narrative technique.


About the Author

Zee Edgell was born in Belize City, Belize in 1940 and is Belize's best known contemporary author. She worked as a professor at Kent State University.


Mome_Rath | 1319 comments I really enjoyed this book -- it was a quick read, but it gave a nice overview to life in a British colony in the mid-19th century. Beka was a compelling character to follow, as she grew up over the course of the story, facing death and learning more about her family and community. I enjoyed her relationship with her mother and grandmother that developed throughout the short tale, as well as with the teacher that took her under her wing.

The book also gives life to diverse, relatively poor, but vibrant and aspirational communities of Belize City, and I loved the geographical details thrown in, from the vacation on a caye offshore to references to the rural interior and Mayan history. It was fascinating to see different character's perspectives on their Guatemalan neighbors and their British rulers.

After I finished the book I looked up details about Belize to try to place the timeframe of the book more specifically, and it appears the story took place in 1951. The People's Indepence Party, or PIP, would have been the People's United Party, and the arrested leaders referenced in the book -- Pritcad and Gadsen -- were likely based on Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson, who were arrested after an article they published in the Belize Billboard in October 1951. I didn't see any reference to a significant hurricane in Belize in 1951, so I'm guessing it was a literary liberty. Based on the timeperiod, I'm guessing the brief references of Beka and Toycie's fathers working in Panama before they were born/when they were young might have been some of the Panama Canal projects of the 1930's, such as the installation of the Madden Dam or the construction of new locks for US warships initiated during World War II.

For other historical references, the 1931 hurricane, which struck Belize on its national holiday (the Battle of St. George's Caye Day on 10 September), remains the deadliest hurricane to have hit Belize. Additionally, the Battle of St. George's Caye Day, or National Day, is now one of a pair of September holidays Belize celebrates; the other is Independence Day, on 21 September, the day Belize gained independence from the UK in 1981.

For places around Belize City, there is a page on Wikipedia that shows the Swing Bridge (Belize), referenced in the book. Baron Bliss Lighthouse, also mentioned, has a page on Wikipedia too. The sawmill referenced in the book was likely one constructed by the British for the export of mahogany, formerly important to trade in Belize. Finally, if you want to see what St. George's Caye, just offshore from the city, looks like, there's a Wikipedia page for it, too.


message 3: by Carmen (last edited Jun 06, 2020 11:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carmen | 1298 comments Mome_Rath wrote: "I really enjoyed this book -- it was a quick read, but it gave a nice overview to life in a British colony in the mid-19th century. Beka was a compelling character to follow, as she grew up over th..."

Wow, Mome _Rath!
You certainly did your homework! 👏👏👏
I liked it very much too 😍


Mome_Rath | 1319 comments Thanks -- it was quite an interesting book to read, and I enjoyed learning more about Belize!


message 5: by Ann (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ann Rahfeldt | 15 comments I really enjoyed this book, especially after I read up on its history.


Laurie | 619 comments I started this today and I can see that I will need to read up on Belize's history as you all have mentioned.


Mome_Rath | 1319 comments I don’t think you need to read up too much on Belize’s history, beyond knowing that it was a British colony, to enjoy the book. I just read up afterwards to get context for background events and topics referenced in the book.


Laurie | 619 comments Mome_Rath wrote: "I don’t think you need to read up too much on Belize’s history, beyond knowing that it was a British colony, to enjoy the book. I just read up afterwards to get context for background events and to..."

I wanted to know a little about the political rallies that Beka's grandmother was going to so I looked up Belize's history. Additionally I had never seen the term "creole" used for anyone outside the US so I wanted to know what about creole people in Belize. So I agree that a basic background is all that's needed but it helps to understand certain references.


Mome_Rath | 1319 comments Laurie wrote: "So I agree that a basic background is all that's needed but it helps to understand certain references."

I absolutely agree! I find myself researching things of interest in books I read all the time; I just wanted to reassure that concentrated research wasn't required to enjoy this book, though it absolutely enriches the experience. Nice review, btw.


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