Jamal Mahjoub, who was widely acclaimed for Travelling with Djinns, is described by his London publisher as a ‘British writer’ while celebrated elsewhere as an African one. Write novels about not having a label and it seems the world of publicity will helpfully oblige.
The starting point in The Drift Latitudes is Ernst Frager, the ultimate white European male in that he is a German machinist-inventor (not a ‘refugee’, as the cover asserts, but an immigrant interned here during the War). Ernst has a daughter, Rachel, by an English wife, then another, Jade, by a West Indian woman in Liverpool. Rachel inherits her father’s wanderlust and ends up in Sudan, where she marries and raises her own mixed-race son. Jade inherits the legacy in other forms, such as her fond memories of jazz, the music born of displacement and loss that drew her parents together.
The book is the non-linear story of the two half-sisters, told in the third person but interspersed with what we gradually guess to be epistolary chapters – highly literary letters sent from Rachel to Jade, from Sudan to England.
There is also a sub-plot revolving around Jade’s working as an architect