A British journalist takes a probing, critical look at economic and moral decline in post-independence Jamaica.
With a similar literary travelogue under his belt about the troubled island of Haiti, Thomson (Primo Levi: A Life, 2003, etc.) now sets his sights on Jamaica, once a paradisiacal resort area, not to mention the birthplace of reggae music, now a down-at-the-heel tropical haven for drug warlords, violence and general infrastructural entropy. The author adroitly combines historical research with his personal observations made while traveling through Jamaica’s embattled neighborhoods. Thomson interviewed mostly older conservative Jamaicans, many of whom are either middle class or members of the local clergy. Most of the interviewees attribute Jamaica’s decline to narrow-mindedness, laziness and a detrimental American influence overtaking the culture. Some of them feel that Jamaica was better off as a British colony. It would be unfair to say that Thomson voices his damning opinion on Jamaica through his one-sided choice of source material, but his own Anglo schoolmasterish disapproval comes through clearly enough. Still, as appalled as he is by the state of things in today’s Jamaica, the author has the good judgment to avoid any suggestion that Jamaica would be better off as an American or British protectorate. The real worth of Thomson’s study are the chapters devoted to the lesser-known but prominent ethnic groups in Jamaica—Jamaican Jews, “Eastern” Indians and Chinese, among others—who’ve played an important, largely obscure role in shaping the island’s history. The author also outlines the inconsistent local politics that have shaped post-independence Jamaica, most notably the left-wing revolutionary leader Michael Manley’s “glamorous failure” to curtail political violence and unite the country’s antagonistic black/white ethnic divide.
A broadly informative cultural investigation despite its inherently biased perspective.