Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University in Hamilton.
Stephen Kimber’s novel Reparations begins with a law case. A Halifax city clerk charged with embezzlement offers a unique defence: far from personally benefiting from his crime, he has stolen the money to donate it to African-Canadian community groups. The city, he argues, must offer reparations to the former residents of Africville, who were forced from their homes by the city decades earlier.
The clerk’s chosen representative is Uhuru Melisse, a.k.a. Ray Carter, a former Africville resident who has declined from a civil rights firebrand to a jaded real estate lawyer. Dubious at first, Melisse is reluctantly pushed into action by both his client and a provocative law professor, a black woman from “away.” Ward Justice, the white judge who hears the case, is initially more worried about the state of his prostate and his crumbling marriage than opening arguments. It turns out, however, that Ward Justice was Uhuru Melisse’s best friend. As a malleable young politician, whose personal entanglements and potentially explosive connections to Africville once threatened his career, Justice once again finds himself on the brink. Both the judge and the defence lawyer must finally acknowledge the past and make amends—their own, personal reparations.
This is a fast-paced, absorbing, and well-written book. Kimber, a journalism professor in Halifax, knows his setting and covers it well. Recognizing the need to redress historical wrongs, Kimber also successfully steers away from polarizing absolutes when delineating his characters, making for an interesting read.