Sunday, June 17, 2012

Well Red: Recent Books About Jamaica

Kingston Noir is a new collection of fiction from new York publisher Akashic. The anthology features original works by Marlon James, Kwame Dawes, Patricia Powell, Colin Channer, Marcia Douglas, Leone Ross, Kei Miller, Christopher John Farley, Ian Thomson, Thomas Glave, and Chris Abani. Stories range from dark crime thrillers to sardonic portraits of modern Jamaican life – ones rife with mystery, intrigue and jarring incidents. 

Marlon James has a previous title on Akashic, John Crow's Devil, as does Kwame Dawes and Kingston Noir editor Colin Channer who is also cofounder and artistic director of the Calabash International Literary Festival Trust. The book is recommended for fans of Caribbean lit, or anyone interested in how tings a gwaan down in Yard.

Moving from fiction to non-fiction, and travel memoir specifically, Noir contributor Ian Thomson has penned one of the most important reflections on Jamaican society in many years. The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica literally criss-crosses the entire island, from parish to parish and town to town, interviewing a wide range of people, from farmers and artists to political figures and captains of society.

Thompson, a white British citizen, goes into deep and honest historical detail about his own nation's complicated relationship with Jamaica, as colonial master and benefactor from the slave and sugar trade. Thompson also tells the stories of Asian and Indian immigrants to the island, interviews one of the last remaining Jewish communities and attends various religious events, including the spiritually charged "nine-night" kumina drumming session at the "dead yard" (house of the deceased) of the book's title.
 Few books have examined Jamaican life and relationships as frankly and thoroughly as The Dead Yard does (Laurie Gunst's Born Fi Dead is another). Thompson, however, does see things through a certain lens, as an outsider. A book of this type written by a Jamaican national would obviously have a very different spin. But Thompson's effort is both humble and thorough, providing yet more insight into an island nation of just 3 million that has had a profound effect on the world at large. Read the Guardian's review.