Growing up as a clever, willful boy in a tiny village in the tropical forests of Trinidad—raised by his indomitable grandmother, Miss Excelly, and her King James Bible—Antonio Michael Downing is steeped in the legacies of his scattered family, the vibrant culture of the island, and the weight of its colonial history. But following Miss Excelly’s death, everything changes. The eleven-year-old Downing seems to fall asleep in the jungle and to wake up in a blizzard: he is sent to live with his devoutly evangelical Aunt Joan in rural Canada, where they are the only Black family in a landscape starkly devoid of the warm lushness of his childhood.
Isolated and longing for home, Downing begins a decades-long journey to transform himself through music and performance. A reunion with his birth parents, whom he has known only through story, closes more doors than it opens. Instead, Downing seeks refuge in increasingly extravagant musical personalities: “Mic Dainjah,” a boisterous punk rapper; “Molasses,” a soul crooner; and, finally, an eccentric dystopian-era pop star clad in leather and gold, “John Orpheus.” In his mid-thirties, increasingly addicted to escapism, attention, and sex, Downing realizes he has become a “Saga Boy”—a Trinidadian playboy archetype—like his father and grandfather before him. When his choices land him in a jail cell, Downing must face who he has become.
Harnessing the lyricism of an evangelical childhood into a flourishing and unforgettable prose all its own, Saga Boy is a poignant journey of overcoming, belonging, and becoming one’s own self.
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Praise and Prizes
“Singularly dazzling, Saga Boy is a brilliant collage of the twenty-first century’s most incredible memoirs. Told with an unforgettable and innovative pace, this a book I will reread forever.”
“A vibrant, evocative, and searing account of the lives of Black immigrants. Downing helps us understand the rage and resilience of Black boys—motherless, fatherless, itinerant—and the communities that intervene to raise them. The triumph of Saga Boy is the triumph of Blackness everywhere—the irrepressible instinct for survival in a world where Blacks are prey.”
“An emotionally captivating, heartbreaking read on one man’s journey to understand who he is, where he comes from and where he belongs. From being the only Black family in Wabigoon to moving transformatively through the music scene in the city, Saga Boy makes us all question the strength of the ties that bind and where our future lies.”
“Downing transports readers to the steamy, scented jungle of Trinidad where he lived with his grandmother as a child. Miss Excelly stands with ramrod dignity, glories in the Lord’s love, and jumps off the page with her strength, her joy, and her suffering. As Faulkner created the powerful Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury, Downing has created Miss Excelly. A story of resilience and character, Saga Boy is bound to become a Canadian classic.”
In Saga Boy, Downing offers expertise and experience, intellect and intimacy; this is a book that names the griefs and violences of colonialism and insists on the tentacular ways they reach into all facets of being. It is also a book about kinship, pleasure, celebration, and love. Saga Boy is the story of a remarkable life, one both relatable and not, told with intricacy. It charts the ways space and time shape people into many, discernible persons within a lifetime. Truly unforgettable.”
“Downing seamlessly blends poetic images, music, and storytelling to create a poignant and stunningly honest memoir of a young man’s adamant determination to navigate his position and find himself despite the boundaries of colonialism, racism, and the endless sense of disbelonging.”