How to Say Babylon: A Memoir (Paperback)

How to Say Babylon: A Memoir By Safiya Sinclair Cover Image
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National Book Critics Circle Award Winner
A New York Times Notable Book
Best Book of the Year for The Washington Post* The New Yorker * Time * The Atlantic * Los Angeles Times * NPR * Harper’s Bazaar * Vulture * Town & Country * San Francisco Chronicle * Christian Science Monitor * Mother Jones * Barack Obama
A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick

“Impossible to put down...Each lyrical line sings and soars, freeing the reader as it did the writer.” —People

With echoes of Educated and The Glass Castle, How to Say Babylon is a “lushly observed and keenly reflective chronicle” (The Washington Post), brilliantly recounting the author’s struggle to break free of her rigid religious upbringing and navigate the world on her own terms.

Throughout her childhood, Safiya Sinclair’s father, a volatile reggae musician and a militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari, was obsessed with the ever-present threat of the corrupting evils of the Western world outside their home, and worried that womanhood would make Safiya and her sisters morally weak and impure. For him, a woman’s highest virtue was her obedience.

Safiya’s extraordinary mother, though loyal to her father, gave her the one gift she knew would take Safiya beyond the stretch of beach and mountains in Jamaica their family called home: a world of books, knowledge, and education she conjured almost out of thin air. When she introduced Safiya to poetry, Safiya’s voice awakened. As she watched her mother struggle voicelessly for years under relentless domesticity, Safiya’s rebellion against her father’s rules set her on an inevitable collision course with him. Her education became the sharp tool to hone her own poetic voice and carve her path to liberation. Rich in emotion and page-turning drama, How to Say Babylon is “a melodious wave of memories” of a woman finding her own power (NPR).

About the Author

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of the memoir How to Say Babylon, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, a finalist for the Women’s Prize in Nonfiction, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the Kirkus Prize. How to Say Babylon was one of the New York Times’s 100 Notable Books of the year, a Washington Post Top 10 Book of 2023, a TIME magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Book of 2023, one of The Atlantic’s 10 Best Books of 2023, a Read with Jenna/TODAY show book club pick, and one of President Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2023. How to Say Babylon was also named a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, NPR, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Vulture, and Harper’s Bazaar, among others, and was an ALA Notable Book of the YearThe audiobook of How to Say Babylon was named a Best Audiobook of the Year by AudioFile magazine.

Sinclair is also the author of the poetry collection Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Addison Metcalf Award in Literature, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Sinclair’s other honours include a Guggenheim fellowship, and fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the Civitella Rainieri Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, MacDowell, Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Arizona State University.


Praise For…

“Impossible to put down. . .Each lyrical line sings and soars, freeing the reader as it did the writer.”—People

“The book grabs the reader because of the beauty of its words, but it sticks because of the thorniness and complexity of its ideas.”The Washington Post 

“[A] breathless, scorching memoir of a girlhood spent becoming the perfect Rasta daughter and an adolescence spent becoming one of Jamaica’s most promising young poets.”The New York Times 

“In this remarkable memoir, Sinclair, an award-winning poet, conjures coming of age in Jamaica with her father, a reggae musician who embraced a strict sect of Rastafari and sought to protect his family from the evil and pervasive influence of the West—what Rastafari call Babylon—and coming into her own as a poet, a writer, and a young woman in charge of her own destiny.”—The New Yorker 
"This memoir is a melodious wave of memories and interrogations that illustrates Sinclair's skill as both a poet and a storyteller....The magical way she strings sentences together, on its own, is reason enough to indulge in this memoir 10 years in the making.... There were numerous attempts to silence her, but Safiya Sinclair came out on the other side, victorious against patriarchy and colonialization; roaring from the hills like the lioness that she is."— 
"A courageous memoir of breaking free from a father’s oppression – and how poetry can be a salve against chaos....A story about hope, imagination and resilience."—The Guardian 
"The strength of Sinclair’s memoir lies partly in its refusal to assign simple, individualized meaning to hallmark coming-of-age moments....?How to Say Babylon?also captures remarkable, intensely labored journeys toward forgiveness. Far from being a trite solution to traumas, Sinclair’s striking memoir is a testament to her craft and her capacity for self-preservation." –The Atlantic 
 “Intensely candid, multidimensional, and altogether dazzling.”—The Millions 

“Sinclair recounts her harrowing upbringing in Jamaica in this bruising memoir…. In dazzling prose … she examines the traumas of her childhood against the backdrop of her new life as a poet in Babylon…. Readers will be drawn to Sinclair’s strength and swept away by her tale of triumph over oppression. This is a tour de force.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review) 
"Sinclair’s gorgeous prose is rife with glimmering details, and the narrative’s ending lands as both inevitable and surprising. More than catharsis; this is memoir as liberation."—Kirkus Reviews?(starred review) 

“Sinclair’s rich, harrowing memoir, “How to Say Babylon,” is a story about home and its fragmentation.”—LA Times 

“Safiya Sinclair knows just how to make a reader feel the intensity of every word on the page.”—Shondaland 

“A true stand out.”Good Morning America 

“I cried so many different kinds of tears reading Safiya Sinclair’s How to Say Babylon. In addition to the deep love, courage, intelligence and compassion of her writing, what caused me to well up repeatedly was the understanding that I was in the presence of an enormous soul.”—Tracy K. Smith in the New York Times 

“Dazzling. Potent. Vital. A light shining on the path of self-deliverance.” —Tara Westover, author of Educated 

“An essential memoir. Sinclair’s devotion to language has been lifelong, and How to Say Babylon is the result. This book is lit from the inside by Sinclair’s determination to learn and live freely, and to see her beloveds freed, too.”—Jesmyn Ward, author of Let Us Descend

“With strikingly stunning prose, How to Say Babylon crackles with both urgency and intimacy. Sinclair is a gifted and poetic voice whose lyrical story of personal reclaiming will inspire generations.”—Tembi Locke, author of From Scratch

"How to Say Babylon is a narrative marvel, the testimony of an artist who literally writes her way out of a life of repression, isolation and abuse into one of art, freedom, love and wonder. To read it is to believe that words can save, words can heal, and words can imbue us with near divine power."—Marlon James, author of Brief History of Seven Killings, winner of the Man Booker Prize and Black Leopard, Red Wolf

"Safiya Sinclair possesses a rare gift: her prose is gorgeous and lush but she has such exemplary control of her craft that not a word is wasted. Every sentence sings. This is the coming of age story of an artist born to parents who yearned to be free of the legacies of slavery and colonialism in Jamaica, and who sought that freedom through faith and resistance.  Sinclair finds her own freedom through a brilliant imagination and deep moral courage. With this book, she joins the pantheon of great writers of the Caribbean literary tradition, standing alongside authors like Paule Marshall, Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid.  Simply stunning.”Imani Perry, author of South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, Winner of the National Book Award

"How to Say Babylon is one of the most gut-wrenching, soul-stirring, electrifying memoirs I've ever read. It shatters every perception we have about Rastafari and lays bare our post-colonial wounds as Jamaicans with lyrical power, unflinching truth, and grace. A necessary testament filled with rich, poetic detail that haunts and dazzles."—Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Here Comes the Sun and Patsy

Some memoirs grab you by the throat with their truth-is-stranger-than-fiction storylines.  Some mesmerize with the power and beauty of the writing.  Every once in a while, a book comes along that does both. Sinclair has told a story that is at once universal-who has not struggled with their family at some point-- and uniquely her own, a story of growing up  as a voiceless girl in a strict Rastafari household. Both beautifully rendered and an incredible story, How to Say Babylon is a tour de force.—Natasha Trethewey, New York Times bestselling author of Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir

When a gifted poet applies her hand to prose, magical, even revelatory things can result. Happily, this is the case with Safiya Sinclair of. In this lyrical, startling, and magnetic memoir about  growing up Rastafari, she weaves a story rich in unsettling visions that goad and haunt while waves crest and soar in the background, beckoning a young girl toward a mysterious future. Her words sparkle like silver or pour like lava, depending on the need. —Jabari Asim, author of Yonder, a 2021New York Times Notable Book

 How to Say Babylon is a poet's memoir, a daughter’s lyric, a love letter, a rebellion, and an incantation. From the material of history and mythology, both personal and political, Safiya Sinclair has gorgeously and lovingly assembled a story with radiant transformative power. I couldn’t put it down.  —Nadia Owusu, author of Aftershocks
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982132347
ISBN-10: 1982132345
Publisher: 37 Ink
Publication Date: July 9th, 2024
Pages: 352
Language: English