When people talk about Jamaica, our music, food, beaches and culture are often hot topics. Very rarely do people mention our literary prowess although Jamaicans make some of the best storytellers in the world. Jamaicans here and the Diaspora hear and experience fascinating stories in everyday life. The epitome of this was in the traditional folktale days of The Honourable “Miss Lou” and it continues with these stories from 21st century Jamaican authors:
These Ghosts are Family - Maisy Card
In her debut novel, Maisy Card takes us through a multi-generational story of one Jamaican family. The story starts with Abel Paisley, a father and husband mourned by his family for thirty years but is only now dying. While overseas, Abel makes the fateful decision to take advantage of the workplace accident that kills a friend, and fake his own death. Years later, home health aide and Abel’s firstborn daughter Irene Paisley arrives to care for a dying man named Stanford Solomon, not knowing he is the father she’s mourned her whole life.
Daylight Come - Diana McCaulay
“It is 2084. Climate change has made life on the Caribbean island of Bajacu a gruelling trial.” Written by one of Jamaica’s leading environmental activists, this work of speculative fiction is inspired by a very real threat. It tells the story of a world where the sun is so hot, people must live and work at night, and a fraught mother-daughter pair trying to escape to higher, cooler ground. As said by Kei Miller, “Like the best science fiction, Daylight Come isn’t just fiction but a warning of a very possible future.”
Augustown- Kei Miller
“The richness and heft that is lost in the making of official accounts of the world is one of Miller’s favorite themes,” says Laura Miller in a 2016 New Yorker article about the Jamaican-born, UK-based poet and his third novel. Set in 1982, the book explores this theme through the eyes of residents of an impoverished community where a teacher cuts off a student’s dreadlocks. The boy, Kaia, is comforted by his great-aunt, Ma Taffy, who tells him the spectacular story of a flying Baptist preacher whose attempt to ascend to heavens was thwarted by Babylon. Miller interweaves magical realism with a literary exploration of Jamaican ideals and culture clashes, creating another modern Jamaican classic that any avid Jamaican reader should get their hands on.
A Million Aunties - Alecia McKenzie
Jamaica, his mother’s homeland, represents a chance to find peace and solitude when an American-born artist experiences a tragic loss. Instead, he gets a complicated extended family (related or otherwise) who need him as much as he soon learns he needs them. Told from different perspectives, McKenzie explores the value of love, unlikely friendships and having a support network through a compelling mix of characters and the contrasting settings of rural Jamaica and the buzzing metropolises of Paris and New York.
Here Comes the Sun - Nicole Dennis-Benn
Set in the Second City, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut captures the bleak realities of working-class women in Jamaica. This gritty tale centres around Margot, a young hotel worker struggling to survive in a world outside the sun, sea and sand she encounters at her job. With intimate knowledge of our social issues, Dennis-Benn spins a story of trying to find financial stability in the face of racial and social inequality while grappling with issues of self-worth and sexuality. The result is an award-winning sensation that was named a Best Book of 2016 by multiple publications, including the New York Times.
How to Love a Jamaican – Alexia Arthurs
In this debut short story collection, Arthurs gives us a fresh take on issues that will be familiar to locals and Jamaicans in the Diaspora, like immigration and identity, family and love. Telling the stories of student athletes, Jamaican migrants, even a global superstar, Arthurs captures our culture from various perspectives, making for a riveting collection as diverse as Jamaica.
The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon
While immigration is a common theme in Jamaican literature, Yoon turns the topic on its head by making it the backdrop of this young adult romance. Jamaican-born Natasha and her family are twelve hours away from deportation when she meets Daniel, a boy whose dreams of becoming a poet are hindered by the expectations of his Korean immigrant parents. Her second novel, and second bestseller, Yoon’s story explores themes like fate or destiny, religion versus science, love and the butterfly effect.
A Brief History of the Seven Killings - Marlon James
If you haven’t read this one by now, you have to. When this won Marlon James the Man Booker Prize in 2015, it solidified the author’s place as Jamaica’s current literary darling. This award-winning book begins on December 2nd, 1976, one day before the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. What follows is a complex narrative that unfolds between Jamaica and the United States over the next decade, told from various points of view. With a four-paged list of characters, including several fictionalized versions of real figures from the period, like the Tuff Gong himself, James’ modern classic is an intense read. If you read to the end, you won’t be disappointed.