July’s People: Adoption and Kinship in Andrea Levy's Fiction


  • John McLeod University of Leeds, UK


adoption, blood, Small Island, The Long Song, family, race, slavery


This essay considers Andrea Levy’s prolonged preoccupation with matters of family, kinship, and adoption as central to her literary articulation of race, empire, and slavery.  It explores how Levy presents as a distinctly bodily affair the colonial legacies that have entangled Britain and Jamaica and impacted upon kinship and family-making, as part of her firm attempt transgressively to expose the centrality of colonialism and slavery to the constitution of both Britain and Britons.  Yet in pursuing this vital and politically urgent task, Levy risks upholding the synchronisation of corporis and cultura – the body and its historical cultivation – essential to colonial modernity’s “blood cultures” that believe in the sanguinary transfusion of historical and cultural particulars.  This risk can be sighted particularly in Levy’s representation of transracial adoption and her appropriation of the rhetoric of “illegitimate” kinship.  With particular reference to The Long Song (2010), the essay considers how Levy’s highly valuable attention to the history of forced adoptions at the heart of slavery’s brutality is problematised by its figurative requisitioning for wider well-intentioned critical purposes.  Ultimately, it is claimed, Levy’s laudable literary mission does not always put under sustained pressure the biocentric norms of colonial modernity’s sanguinary imagination.

Author Biography

John McLeod, University of Leeds, UK

John McLeod is Professor of Postcolonial and Diaspora Literatures at the University of Leeds, UK.  He is the author of Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis (Routledge, 2004), Beginning Postcolonialism (2nd ed., Manchester University Press, 2010) and Life Lines: Writing Transcultural Adoption (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).  He is an Editorial Board member for the journal Adoption & Culture and co-editor of the Ohio State University Press book series, Formations: Adoption, Kinship, and Culture.