Today is World Book Day, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the globe.
Last year, we featured 12 popular, enduring and/or ground-breaking fictional books by Jamaican authors, and we’re back with another great list for 2016. This time around, we’ve added some poetry and short story collections to the mix. Have you read any of these books? We’d love to hear what you thought!
It Begins with Tears by Opal Palmer Adisa
Kirstoff village, in the heart of rural Jamaica, is a peaceful home where everyone knows everyone else and looks out for each other. Until Monica comes home.
Dog-Heart by Diana McCauley
Told in two voices, educated Jamaican English and the nation-language of the people, this dramatic novel tells the story of a well-meaning, middle-class woman and a young boy from the ghetto whom she desperately wants to help. Alternating between the perspectives of the woman and the boy, the story engages with issues of race and class, examines the complexities of relationships between people of very different backgrounds, and explores the difficulties faced by individuals seeking to bring about social change through their own actions.
Banana Bottom by Claude McKay
A Jamaican girl, Bita Plant, who was adopted and sent to be educated in England by white missionary benefactors, returns to her native village of Banana Bottom and finds her black heritage at war with her newly acquired culture.
Stories from Yard by Alecia McKenzie
In this collection of compelling short stories set in Jamaica and the United States, female characters rely on their resilience, creativity, optimism, humor, and friendship to help them make their way in a difficult world.
Chinese Lanterns from the Blue Child by Anthony McNeill
This collection of poetry won the 1995 Jamaican National Literary Award. Completed shortly before his death, it is a farewell to the world which moves like a bird in flight between moments of painful regret, wry humour and a sense of closure.
The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller
In this collection, the acclaimed Jamaican poet dramatizes what happens when one system of knowledge, one method of understanding place and territory, comes up against another. The cartographer, used to the scientific methods of assuming control over a place by mapping it, is gradually compelled to recognize — even to envy — a wholly different understanding of place, as he tries to map his way to the rastaman’s eternal city of Zion.
Red Jacket by Pamela Mordecai
Growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Chris, Grace Carpenter never feels like she really belongs. Although her large, extended family is black, she is a redibo. Her skin is copper-coloured, her hair is red, and her eyes are grey. A neighbour taunts her, calling her “a little red jacket,” but the reason for the insult is never explained. Only much later does Grace learn the story of her birth mother and decipher the mystery surrounding her true identity.
I Been There, Sort Of: New and Selected Poems by Mervyn Morris
New poems and works from three previous collections come together in this exploration of self and society by the acclaimed Morris, who was appointed Jamaica’s Poet Laureate in 2014. Using both standard English and Jamaican Creole, these verses explore the themes of love, lust, time, memory, death, religion, politics, history, and art.
The Pain Tree by Olive Senior
This collection of short stories is wide-ranging in scope, time period, theme, locale, and voice. There is — along with her characteristic “gossipy voice” — reverence, wit and wisdom, satire, humour, and even farce. The stories range over at most a hundred years, from around the time of the second world war to the present.
She Who Sleeps with Bones by Tanya Shirley
Themes of spirituality and gender relations are explored through topics such as the death of friends and relatives, the anxiety of being a foreigner in another country, the peril of unrequited love, the importance of size in sexual play, and the premonition of tragedy.
The Hills of Hebron by Sylvia Wynter
When Sister Rose, the beautiful young wife of Obadiah, the leader of the Church of New Believers, becomes pregnant, the hillside community of Hebron is thrown into a whirlwind of suspicion, disbelief and doubt. For Obadiah had taken a vow of chastity, not to lay with Rose for one year and one month.
Pao by Kerry Young
This critically acclaimed novel was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Commonwealth Book Prize after its release in 2011. It tells the story of Pao, who comes to Jamaica in the wake of the Chinese Civil War, in which his father dies, and rises to become the Godfather of Kingston’s bustling Chinatown. Although he handles some dirty business, that life is not true to his character. Often mystified by all that he must take care of, Pao invariably turns to Sun Tzu’s Art of War for inspiration. You might also want to read Young’s follow up, Gloria, which is a stand-alone novel, but revisits some of the characters. Pao also becomes Gloria’s love interest.