Sufferah: Memoir of a Brixton Reggae head
In this breathtaking memoir, Alex Wheatle details how reggae music became his salvation through a childhood marred by abuse and his imprisonment as a young man protesting against systemic racism and police brutality.
Abandoned as a baby to the British foster care system, Alex grows up without any knowledge of his Jamaican parentage or family history. As he becomes preoccupied with his own roots, Alex is inexorably drawn to reggae music, which becomes his primary solace through years of physical and mental abuse in the children’s home.
2024 The Margins Book Awards - Top Ten Award List
Akashic Books USA
"Told in a warm, conversational style, Sufferah attests to the power of perseverance and the importance of knowing the whole story."
"Raw and gritty at times, yet hopeful because of the fight in him... It is an inspiring narrative about grace under fire and why negativity should never define us."
"...chronicles the extraordinary life of one of the most renowned black British writers. Wheatle’s account of his traumatic childhood, tumultuous upbringing, and salvation through reggae music is candid and unsparing. Sufferah does not shy away from the entrenched racism and xenophobia embedded in British culture and politics: in writing of his personal experience of the April 1981 Brixton uprising, Wheatle employs a music-diary style to describe his participation and subsequent imprisonment.'...chronicles the extraordinary life of one of the most renowned black British writers. Wheatle’s account of his traumatic childhood, tumultuous upbringing, and salvation through reggae music is candid and unsparing. Sufferah does not shy away from the entrenched racism and xenophobia embedded in British culture and politics: in writing of his personal experience of the April 1981 Brixton uprising, Wheatle employs a music-diary style to describe his participation and subsequent imprisonment."
"Sufferah is a personal memoir as well as a hosanna to the glory that is Jamaican music... Sufferah, by turns witty, tragic and, yes, righteous, is a likkle gem."
‘A MESMERIZINGLY told, unsentimental, tender memoir about Alex Wheatle’s childhood abandonment, being raised in an abusive children’s home in South London, and then his involvement in the Brixton race riots of the early 1980s, hits the bookshelves this month. Sufferah: Memoir of a Brixton Reggae Head digs into the culture and especially the music of South London’s Afro-Caribbean community of the times. It ends with Alex’s first visit to Jamaica to meet his father for the first time – a difficult, though healing experience. Abandoned as a baby to the British care system, Wheatle, inset, grows up with no knowledge of his Jamaican parentage or family history. Later, he is inexorably drawn to reggae, his lifeline through disrupted teenage years and the challenges of living as a young Black man in 1980s Britain.’
The Voice - July 2023
“Readers will be drawn to Wheatle’s exquisite prose, and lovers of music will appreciate how reggae brings light during difficult times.”
“Novelist Wheatle (Brixton Rock) considers in this inspiring autobiography how reggae music helped him endure childhood abuse and connect with his heritage….His journey from orphan to self-possessed storyteller is by turns gripping and heartbreaking.”
'...this is a searing account of Wheatle's time in care and the failings of social services...
...Conversational and full of self-deprecating humour, Sufferah is a potent tale of triumph over adversity. Angry but never bitter, Wheatle's compassion shines through the pain..'
‘First of all, just to say, wow – what a privilege to be invited into Alex’s life in this way. This book is an intimate glimpse into a life full of struggle, pain, discovery and joy. Often heartbreaking but frequently life-affirming too, a lens into some of the most pressing social justice issues of a generation. Alex is a truly gifted storyteller, and the way he details his own story here is no exception.’
‘A moving account of one writer’s indomitable will to overcome the odds stacked against him. A tender, hilarious, and deeply felt memoir, the book places Wheatle’s experiences in foster care and incarceration within a larger context of racism in the UK and dovetails with his coming of age as a lover of reggae music and Jamaican culture. What a gift to witness Wheatle’s journey to find and forgive his birth family and to make a life and family of his own.’
Naomi Jackson, author of The Star Side of Bird Hill
‘This searing record of a writer’s journey is that and more: A history of the reggae revolution in bass riddim. A raw account of racism in Britain. A prose that is Wheatle at his best—gritty, fast-paced, fierce, funny, restrained, a tightrope walker’s balance. A crucial chapter in the story of Black lives. It’s hard to put this book down.'
Curdella Forbes, author of A Tall History of Sugar
‘Alex Wheatle’s bracingly honest, at times excruciatingly evocative memoir is shaped by the poetics of reggae music—but more than that, it is reggae music: brimming with all the pain and injustice that is baked into Babylon system, yet at the same time, by virtue of its artistic majesty, a beautiful transcendence of these things.’
Baz Dreisinger, author of Incarceration Nations
‘Alex Wheatle’s great mission is to make ‘sufferahs’ visible and represent them in his art. With this insightful memoir, which mixes music with memory, he has done exactly that.’
C.J. Farley, author of Zero O’Clock