Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023. An exhilarating novel-in-stories that pulses with style, heart and barbed humour, while unravelling what it means to carve out an existence between cultures, homes and pay cheques

In 1979, as political violence consumes their native Kingston, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami. But they soon learn that the welcome in America will be far from warm.    

Trelawny, their youngest son, comes of age in a society that regards him with suspicion and confusion. Their eldest son Delano’s longing for a better future for his own children is equalled only by his recklessness in trying to secure it.  

As both brothers navigate the obstacles littered in their path – an unreliable father, racism, a financial crisis and Hurricane Andrew – they find themselves pitted against one another. Will their rivalry be the thing that finally tears their family apart? 

The Booker Prize 2023
Published by
4th Estate
Publication date

Buy the book

We benefit financially from any purchases you make when using the ‘Buy the book’ links.

Jonathan Escoffery

Jonathan Escoffery

About the Author

His debut, If I Survive You, announces Jonathan Escoffery as a skilled chronicler of American life at its most gruesome and hopeful
More about Jonathan Escoffery

An astonishingly assured debut novel, lauded by the panel for its clarity, variety and fizzing prose. As the stories move back and forth through geography and time, we are confronted by the immigrants’ eternal questions: who am I now and where do I belong?

— The Booker Prize 2023 judges

Watch our video with Jonathan Escoffery

Jonathan Escoffery on writing If I Survive You

‘It took approximately ten years to write If I Survive You, though there were many long pauses, as I moved homes frequently in search of ways to sustain myself and my writing practice. I don’t write much longhand, but I write a lot in my head and that’s what I did during those pauses. There were 50 or so drafts written.  

I am always in the process of conducting research for my projects, though I do so during the writing process, and not necessarily beforehand. I write toward discovery and typically stop to plot out a story only when I feel particularly stuck, but find that looking back at what’s already on the page can guide me forward as well, because there may be a natural trajectory suggested in the early pages.  

I prefer to write at my desk, on my desktop, to keep as consistent a writing habit as possible. My book was mostly written on my laptop, though, at my desk and at cafes and on trains, and in bed too. Wherever I work, I’m usually surrounded by stacks of books, some of which may have a tangential relationship with what I’m working on.’  

Read the full interview here

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

Alfred Enoch reads from If I Survive You

Why you should read If I Survive You, according to our judges

‘In Jonathan Escoffery’s vital, captivating debut novel, each chapter takes us deeper into a family album of stories, revealing the life and survival of a family, fleeing the violence of early Seventies’ Jamaica for the uncertain sanctuary of a new beginning in America. 

‘From the heartbreaking to the hilarious, Escoffery effortlessly conducts the various voices, contradictory in their perspectives, their dreams and desires, while wrestling with the age-old immigrant dilemma - who are my people and where do I belong?   

‘As with the best fiction, all of life is here in unflinching detail: the vagaries of capitalism, our yearning for a safety net, international migration, the American Dream, the fragility of existence, climate change, catastrophic misunderstandings and the road not taken.’


Jonathan Escoffery

What the critics said

Ian Williams, The Guardian

‘As the underdog against the monstrous antagonists of racism and poverty, morality becomes extra weight when Trelawny is in survival mode, hanging on to an unethical job for the privilege of “a toilet on which to sit and unload your twisted, clogged-up colon”. It’s hard to like Trelawny at his most unscrupulous. And then one remembers that Black people should not have to be heroic in order to live ordinary lives. In the final pages, the collection surges with the symphonic, imaginative, propulsive energy of Gabriel García Márquez into a vision of a possible future for Trelawny. We find ourselves resisting it because our fate is wrapped up in his, and we trust that Escoffery will not flatten his characters – or us – into statistics.’

Andrew Martin, The New York Times

‘Given Escoffery’s skill in making me care for these characters, I wished at times that I was caught more forcefully in a current of narrative momentum with them, and some episodes (as when poor Cukie ends up in an overheated slice of Florida noir) struck me as less than convincing. But the author is, throughout, a gifted, sure-footed storyteller, with a command of evocative language and perfectly chosen details. He wields a disarming, irreverent sense of humor, as when Trelawney’s brother tells him he’s “been acting like a bum.” “I took no offense,” Escoffery writes, “but clarified, I identify as dispossessed.” It could be this writer’s credo, and it’s the kind of line that makes me eager to read him for a long time to come.’

Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

‘Escoffery’s fiction is marked by ingenuity. The eight stories in If I Survive You employ the first, second, and third person, as well as the past, present, and future tense. One tale unfolds in Jamaican patois; another dips in and out of Black American idioms. There’s peacocking humor, capers, and passages of shuddering eroticism. The book feels thrillingly free. His technical exuberance stands in stark contrast to his subject matter, which can feel hopeless, a litany of the cruelties that people in straitened circumstances visit upon one another.’

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery