THE TRUE HISTORY OF PARADISE by Margaret Cezair-Thompson


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The colorful and dramatic history of Jamaica is stunningly encapsulated in this complex first novel, whose embattled protagonist gradually comes to terms with her own mixed ethnic heritage: a microcosm of her country’s deeply fragmented nature. She is Jean Landing, “the descendant, not of runaway Africans, but of African slaves. And . . . of English, Irish, Spanish, Jewish, Germans, and Chinese.” We first observe her in 1981, when political conflicts have created a state of emergency and suspended individual liberties; and her journey away from her hometown (Kingston) and toward freedom is counterpointed against Jean’s jumbled memories of her earlier life, and the “voices” (which she’s “heard” since childhood) of her ancestors. The story that emerges, piecemeal, paints vivid pictures of Jean’s truculent mother Monica (determined to “rise above” her own blackness); her half-sister Lana, a manic-depressive beauty queen and popular entertainer whose star blazes so brightly it violently burns itself out; and of Jean’s several volatile relationships with her polyglot relatives, school friends, and—most confusingly—men. Cezair-Thompson quickly establishes a seductive narrative rhythm that places powerful emphasis on the interpolated glimpses of Jean’s several families’ history: an abortive native rebellion against the British colonial government in 1865, as experienced by a black preacher; the ordeal of Monica’s Scottish ancestor Jean Falkirk, who married a native Jamaican doctor and heroically carried on his work following his death; the tale of conquest and disillusionment contained in “the journal of Don Alejandro D’Costa, . . . [her father’s] first known ancestor on the island”; and, in a remarkably moving climactic moment, the chanted lament of a Yoruban African girl recently sold into slavery. A heartbreakingly rich, beautiful story whose characters hauntingly embody their country’s travail, for which novelist-screenwriter Cezair-Thompson has devised the perfect structure. A very accomplished debut.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-525-94490-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999


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