Rainbow Milk, Paul Mendez’s debut novel, explores lived histories at the intersections of Blackness, the working class, British Empire, queerness, masculinity and an insular religious community. These contradictions crash into each other, sometimes across space and time, across generations or within a single life: Mendez traverses the long duration of Black relocation from Jamaica, and the promises made to the Windrush generation by Perfidious Albion. In its engagement with colonial history, Rainbow Milk embeds us in lives and loves held up by place, work and everyday sensuality. The soot of Birmingham’s 1950s industrial landscape and the rhythms of Brixton’s streets in the 2000s are brought alive in this novel of three generations of Black men, centred around the young Jesse and his search for self-realisation. The novel plays key moments (an evening or a weekend) from these lives, as if dropping a needle onto a vinyl record to find their time-grooves.
Rainbow Milk speaks in a variety of Black voices which Mendez performs with the experience of having been raised as a Jehovah’s Witness to give Bible readings. The reader senses the intricacy and fragility of everyday exchanges, and Mendez brings his experience as an actor and performer to his craft as a writer (Mendez also recorded the audio book for his novel). I spoke to Paul Mendez via video call as 2020 was closing. We were both keen to see the back of it, but kept returning to the activity and activism which gives us cause for hope in the present crisis, from Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You to the many waves created by BLM.