The timing couldn’t be better for the launch of Packabook’s Jamaica page.
We have just seen the release in the UK (those of you in the US will need to wait until April – sorry!) of Andrea Levy’s new novel The Long Song, the story of July, a Jamaican house slave on a sugar plantation.
You may know Levy from her 2004 novel Small Island which, while it has Jamaican references, is predominantly set in Britain. It was a book that won much praise and a slew of prizes including the Orange Prize for Fiction, and it left many of us in great anticipation as to what she would write next.
As Packabook readers, we couldn’t be more delighted that Levy decided to explore Jamaica itself with this new novel.
Set in the 19th century, The Long Song centres on the relationship between July and the mistress of the plantation, Caroline Mortimer. It is a time when change is in the air, and there is a gathering movement for freedom. Levy takes us through all this, right up until the eventual abolition of slavery on the island in 1938, and the years following emancipation.
Levy herself is the child of Jamaican migrants,and was born in Britain in 1956. At least one of her ancestors was born into slavery, but she knows little of their story. Interviews with Levy since the release of the book have revealed her passion for the subject and in fact she has described herself as ‘obsessed’.
The reviews for The Long Song have been filled with praise. Here are some of them if you need some more convincing.
And after reading those, I just know you are going to find it impossible to resist ordering the book yourself. So here’s the link.
But of course, we have many other books on our Jamaica Page. In doing the research to find some great titles for you, we uncovered some real gems.
Among them there’s The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson in which we witness political change and the glamor of Hollywood visitors to the island through three generations of women. There’s Marlon James’s powerful debut novel John Crow’s Devil and there’s some laughs to be had with The Lunatic by Anthony C. Winkler or Mari SanGiovanni’s Greetings from Jamaica – Wish you were Queer.
All of these books can be better enjoyed with a little background understanding – so here’s a few key facts about Jamaica to help you on your way.
- The island of Jamaica is in the Caribbean Sea about 90 miles (145 kilometres) south of Cuba. It was first claimed by the Spanish, and then became a British colony after it was seized by the English in 1655. It is still part of the British Commonwealth
- The capital is Kingston
- Slavery was part of Jamaica from the days of Spanish colonialism when African slaves were brought to the island. The trading of slaves was banned in 1807, but it was the 1830’s before slavery itself was officially abolished.
- Jamaica became independent in 1962 after a brief time being a part of the Federation of West Indies.
- Over the years, many Jamaicans have chosen to migrate to other countries, especially to the U.S, Canada and Britain.
- The country has many resources including bauxite and sugar, but despite this there is also a great deal of crime and poverty. There are both luxury resorts and densely-populated ghettos.
- When many of us think of Jamaica, it is of music, food and a rich mix of culture – and of course the reggae master Bob Marley!
So with the dregs of winter hanging about here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s time to let a little sunshine in and start reading a Jamaican novel this month. Head over to our Jamaica Page and choose your favorites.
And we’ll start working on titles for next month’s New Country page – Iran. As always, any suggestions are most welcome…..
Suzi from Packabook