Manny and the Baby

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Pub Date 11 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 5 Apr 2024

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London, 1936. Two sisters are ready to take the city and the world by storm.

Bath, 2012. Two young Black men are figuring out who they are, and who they want to become.

Manny Powell is forthright, intellectual, and determined to make her mark on the London literary scene. Her younger sister, Rita ‘The Baby’, just wants to dance. Chasing their dreams across smoky Soho jazz clubs, they soon find themselves part of the burgeoning Black ambition movement, and must learn how to navigate it as women. As tensions rise, and fascism and war snap at their heels, Rita finds herself drawn to the mysterious mimic and trumpeter, Ezekiel Brown, from Jamaica, and the trio are faced with choices that will alter their lives forever.

Itai has fled London to his late father’s flat in Bath. Listening to cassette tapes his father made, he realises there is a lot he doesn’t know about the man’s life — who is Rita? Why did his father record her life story? And might she hold the answers to Itai’s questions? Meanwhile, his developing friendship with Josh, a young athlete who moonlights as a dealer to fund his training, is on unsteady ground. As the country prepares for the 2012 Olympics, Josh is under increasing pressure from his bosses to find out just what the hell Itai is really doing in their city.

Manny and the Baby is a character-driven debut novel, full of heart, about what it means to be Black and British, now and in the past.

London, 1936. Two sisters are ready to take the city and the world by storm.

Bath, 2012. Two young Black men are figuring out who they are, and who they want to become.

Manny Powell is forthright...

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ISBN 9781915590268
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 9 members

Featured Reviews

Loved everything about this book. The time settings, characters, music and dance. I found the book to be very engaging and atmospheric as if I was really there at times. I read this in two sittings I really couldn't put it down. I loved the writing and story with deep believable characters. I also liked the contrast flicking between pre war London and more present 2012 of the Olympics as a background setting - the contrast where the world is falling apart as opposed to all nations coming together. I also liked the characters background stories, of black history and how it often felt how they didn't belong anywhere and how home is sometimes about who you're with rather than where you are. I will be recommending and looking out for more from this author

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Varaidzo's debut novel, Manny and the Baby, is a fascinating, beautiful thing. There are layers of story here - Itai and Josh in contemporary Bath, and 1930s jazz-age London, whose story is told through tapes Itai's father made before he passed which tell the story of Rita "The Baby" and Manny.

It is an engrossing tale, evocative, and superbly written. She recreates the smoky clubs of London brilliantly; I could hear the jazz. I had to check if really was a debut. I will certainly be keeping my eye out for what Varaidzo does next.

Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for the ARC.

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Reading this as an Advanced Copy was such an honour. Being able to indulge in this world before everyone around me soaks it in too. Before it’s on the front page of every bookseller newsletter and in every window on the high street. They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but this one is a perfect fit.
The kindness for debut releases is not needed here. Varaidzo’s words paint vivid pictures and despite the book being short in length, I found myself taking a while to read it. Every word fees important, just as they are in the book itself. Every setting comes to mind like a movie scene, with the lives of these characters begging to be adapted.
This has definitely started a long love affair with a new favourite author and I look forward to it getting every bit of praise it deserves.
Big thank you to Scribe and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this early.

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loved this book. It was a story within a story. Coming of age. Secrets.
It dealt with a number of issues from loss and how it can leave you until your mind can deal with it. And family issues and generational histories.
I prefer Rita's story, but liked the way the book was set. I found myself reading it really slowly because I did not want to miss a word.

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This is a dazzling debut from Varaidzo, an exquisite exploration of what it is to be black in the past and in more contemporary times, an astutely erudite outpouring thrumming with vibrancy, warmth, passion, heart, and tenderness, that illuminates the complexity and lives of the characters divided by time, yet the connections emerge, with so much remaining constant. A grieving and unsettled Londoner, Itai, has lost his father, an ethnomusicology scholar, shocked when he learns he has inherited a home in Bath, what possible link could his father have with this city? There he comes across tapes that open up and inform him of the life of his father, a past and a family history he knew nothing of.

We are immersed in the lives of a smart, determined Manny, and her younger 16 year old sister, Rita, aka Baby, chasing their dreams of writing and dancing in the 1930s with energy and verve, hoping to overcome the prevailing limitations of race and gender, wanting so much more than was on offer. We travel with them, the developments in their personal lives, hand in hand with that of the charismatic trumpeter and mimic, Ezekial Brown. Incorporated throughout are the events of the period, the culture, arts, music, literary circles, exuberant political discussions, creative hustling, sweaty dancing, vaudeville acts, salacious, smoky Soho jazz clubs and the chaos of swapped identities. Hanging over the trio with their painful impact are the police raids, the growing fascism and the threat of war, and a Ethiopian King, Selassie, moves to Bath, all bringing with them the tides of change that follow, grief and losses, one after another, the secrets between them, the promised land slipping further away.

The author shows how good intentions can exacerbate situations, and the cyclical nature of history as Itai retraces the same steps, recalibrating and forging a stronger understanding of his late father as he learns of his missing past, simultaneously establishing a fortuitous relationship with a young Josh. This is an extraordinary debut read that captivates and engages, beautifully written, with its memorable characters and their relationships, legacies, of how times change and yet nothing changes. Simply fabulous! This will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly those fascinated by black lives and history. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

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