Reading the World: Guyana: The Girl from Lamaha Street by Sharon Maas


My Interest

  1. I discovered this book via Cathy’s review on her blog, What Cathy Read Next. Won’t you be nice and click the link and read her review, too?
  2. The book is set in two countries–England (Harrogate) and in Georgetown, Guyana–then British Guyana or “BC” to the locals. I’m reading my way around the world and Guyana is a country I hadn’t “visited” yet.
  3. In college I took a great literature course (thanks, Mom, for picking it when I was overwhelmed) on self-discovery. This book seemed like it would be a great fit in that course.

The Story

Sharon is born to a very independent mother and a father who’d prefer a traditional wife. Both her parents are very politically active in the rising independence movement in 1950’s British Guyana-the Guyana of today. Sharon is a quiet child, in part due to being tongue-tied (physically) and in part due to being a deep thinker. She is always trying to work out who she is and why she is this way or what her place in the universe is–those sorts of questions. After a few years of marriage in both London and Georgetown, her parents separate. She stays in Guayana, as does her father (though she does not live with him) and her mother returns to London for a while. Sharon is buffeted from this storm and it’s after-effects to some degree by the large, loving extended families on both sides of her family tree. The auntie and the granny and all the cousins envelope her and love on her.

“To the right, the beautiful stained-glass windows in the chancel provided the only light, lending to the atmosphere of hushed sanctity.”

“Was it brainwashing, this deep sense of peace and reverence that washed through me, not only the sound of that [hymn] singing, but induced by the very atmosphere of the chapel? I couldn’t help it. It was just there, and I felt it, and it was deep and enduring.”

In spite of this love and protection, Sharon develops a sort of identity crisis and insists on being called “Jo” and insists the only thing for her is to go off to a traditional English boarding school where she can ride horses. Her mother, thanks to an unusual windfall, can and does provide this. For a few years, “Jo” is happy. She thrives on the structure, order, rules, uniforms–they are a scaffolding she needs at that point. She even enjoys the normally forbidden religion and church attendance, and what she learns in church and religion class expands her questioning of herself. As a child I felt that reverence in the 19th Century Presbyterian Church building we in which we attended services for a few years. The stained glass windows, the fine wood, the quiet. I understood what “Jo” felt. I understood how religion classes were the one thing she’d give up her free reading time for. In my 30s I would do the same.

We see Jo grow up through the experience of boarding school, of becoming a (locally) successful competitive rider, and by experiencing some of the peace God grants. We see her endure overt racism on a skiing trip to Austria, too. Up to that point, she has been a child, not really seeing that she stood out in every crowd. The English, at least those at her school or in her holiday foster home, treated he politely whatever their inner feelings may have been. We see her truly “connect” with a book, My Friend Flicka (a favorite of my Dad’s)–seeing herself in the book and riding wave upon wave of emotion in reading it. We see her “find” herself.

Eventually, though, homesickness, or perhaps just maturity and security in her own identity, overcomes her and she asks to go home over Christmas vacation. Once home she knows that the “Jo” period of her life is over and she is “Sharon” once again. Her identity has been firmly established by exploring that other “home”–England and trying out the life of a privileged school girl in that coveted tweed skirt and house tie. She knows who she is now.

My Thoughts

“I learned that loving is an act of will. That love is a decision.”

This was an amazingly frank memoir. I admired her for her honesty–and for not just blaming her parents for all that was wrong in her life, though that would have been somewhat understandable. I related to her story almost from the first word–in fact the very title was why I read it. I went through a long yearning for horses–we’d had them when I was too young to enjoy them. And, unbelievably, a girl in middle-of-no-where-Indiana wrote off to English boarding schools wanting a chance at a “real” education even though I got homesick on the school bus even in high school! I understood both “Jo” and “Sharon.” The “Sharon” in me is the person who decided I live “here” and it is “home” now and I will not move again. 

I knew people in Malawi who were or had been as passionate about Independence–at least at the time it was granted, and were caught up fully in trying to end the rule of a dictator that replaced British rule and build a modern democracy. That helped me to understand her parents’ intensity in their careers. My Mom and my Uncle were sent home to stay with their Grandmother after two years abroad with their parents. Neither was ever the same after living abroad, but both suffered a degree of alienation from their parents when sent home. Like Sharon it manifested itself in different ways in both of them. A loving grandmother, a second, more distant grandmother, and aunt, younger cousins and a host of extended family could not fill the gap of one rather cold (by today’s terms) mother and a father consumed by work. I could feel what Sharon went through due to this experience in my own family. The “desertion” of Sharon’s mother–even though she was in no way “giving up” her daughter, was too much. Even when they reconciled there was distance.

Mostly, I loved Sharon’s joy in the ponies and their care and in her books. I loved her chapters on these topics. They were so “me” that I felt we were “sisters born to different parents.”

My Verdict


The Girl from Lamaha Street by Sharon Maas

Scenes from colonial British Guyana as it was in Sharon’s early childhood.

5 thoughts on “Reading the World: Guyana: The Girl from Lamaha Street by Sharon Maas

Add yours

  1. This sounds really good; loved your review and I think I’d enjoy the book too. I loved your reflections as well; I didn’t know you’d written to find out about British boarding schools. Reminds me of my writing to see about going to Norton Nanny Academy!! Thanks for sharing the Unseen Queen video. Hoping to watch today!


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