How to Say Babylon

A Memoir (U.K. Paperback)

Born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where luxury hotels line pristine white sand beaches, Safiya Sinclair grew up guarding herself against an ever-present threat. Her father, a volatile reggae musician and strict believer in a militant sect of Rastafari, railed against Babylon, the corrupting influence of the immoral Western world just beyond their gate. To protect the purity of the women in their family he forbade almost everything: nowhere but home and school, no friends but this family and no future but this path.

Her mother did what she could to bring joy to her children with books and poetry. But as Safiya’s imagination reached beyond its restrictive borders, her burgeoning independence brought with it ever greater clashes with her father. Soon she realised that if she was to live at all, she had to find some way to leave home. But how?

In seeking to understand the past of her family, Safiya Sinclair takes readers inside a world that is little understood by those outside it and offers an astonishing personal reckoning. "How to Say Babylon" is an unforgettable story of a young woman’s determination to live life on her own terms.


Safiya Sinclair is an associate professor of English at ASU.

Praise for this book

To read it is to believe that words can save.

Marlon James Author, "A Brief History of Seven Killings"

Breathless, scorching…the book’s a banquet.

The New York Times