HOW TO LOVE A JAMAICAN by Alexia Arthurs


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Jamaican immigrant and return-migration stories told with unsentimental honesty.

Eleven short stories examine the immigrant experience through the prism of place, food, gender, and generations; in this collection, the home lands are Jamaica—where the author spent her childhood—and the United States. Far from pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrap mythology, and thankfully devoid of violin-swelling nostalgia, these stories unravel the knot of being in a place but not quite belonging and the sense of missing but not quite understanding what was lost. In “Bad Behavior” (winner of the Paris Review's Plimpton Prize for Fiction), what could have been written as a contest of wills turns out instead to be an examination of three generations of women in a Jamaican family. The “bad behavior” belongs to the youngest, 14-year-old Stacy, who was caught giving a boy a blow job in school. Delivering Stacy to her granny Trudy in Jamaica, Pam, the girl’s frantic mother, hopes Trudy will love her granddaughter "enough to show her some of the harshness that the world was ready and able to give her.” In reality, Stacy, like her mother and grandmother before her, has already experienced several harsh realities. In “Mermaid River,” a mother leaves her son with his grandmother while she settles in the U.S. This story artfully swings back and forth between the boy’s childhood in Jamaica to the time when he finally rejoins his mother and her husband as a young teen in Brooklyn. Other stories feature young adults, long detached from but not quite severed from their Jamaican roots, with various levels of self-awareness. “Only now does the history of that river sit on me,” says the narrator of “Mermaid River.” The same can be said of this strong debut collection, which beckons the reader back, again and again.

A lovely collection of stories that rewards subsequent readings.

Pub Date: July 24th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5247-9920-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2018


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