Book Reviews Caribbean Authors Jamaican Authors

How to love a Jamaican- Alexia Arthurs

I don’t know if anyone is excited as I am to see Jamaicans doing ‘TINGS’ and doing things well. There’s just that warm glowing feeling you get (No, I won’t describe it as national pride) when you witness Usain Bolt beating his chest at the finish line or of Tessanne Chin belting out 4 octaves on the Voice and being announced as the winner to a screaming audience.

There is no one more Jamaican than Jamaicans living outside of Jamaica.  This book captures this perfectly and then some.

Alexia Arthurs through this collection of short stories captures the little nuances of being Jamaican perfectly. The book is a collection of 11 short stories about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. The protagonists’ stories include everything from; The light skin/Black skin contention (color-ism), Barrel children reuniting with parents abroad, a ‘Duppy’ story and an international megastar escaping the evils of fame narrowly by returning home to her mother’s arms. The emotions are diverse in this book and pull you in completely from one story to the next. One minute you are tearing up at the love so purely displayed in ‘Mash up love’ the next you are angry at the carelessness from two girls drowning in ‘slack’. Though several of the stories concentrated on the protagonists living outside of Jamaica, Arthurs is attentive and skilfully captures the theme of a person being of a place but not from it. If this book was a person walking around the streets of New York and you happened upon them, just by being in their presence without them uttering a word you would know they are “of Jamaica.”

My favorite stories from the book are as follows in order of- will re-read first.

  1. Mashup love
  2. How to love a Jamaican
  3. Slack
  4. Shirley from a small place
  5. Bad behavior
  6. Mermaid River
  7. light skinned girls and Kelly Rowlands… etc.

How to love a Jamaican

Dat woman really knew how fi love a Jamaican man…Because wat a man need more dan good food in him belly, a clean house , and someone fi hug up wid at night?

The title story is the 7th story in the book. I must admit its not my favorite but it is the story which resonates the most. It represents so accurately a huge stereotype, that of a man with a wife and an outside pickney. Here is a story of a Jamaican marriage from when they met, make a life in foreign and is now able to spend 6 months of the year in the island post-retirement. The wife is oblivious of a whole grown child outside of her marriage (or so the protagonist thinks) as he sits on a stump reliving his youth.  Arthurs so skillfully captures the mood of the protagonists so that at different points in the story the reader may feel inclined to understand the why’s of the adultery maybe even feel sorry for him even. Here is a man with a great secret wallowing in self-pity and shame even more so as a loving and loyal wife calls him ‘a good man’ on a daily basis. A man who is both a present and an absentee father seeks forgiveness and understanding from the audience because of how his wife and children would look at him if they ever found out.  If that is not true Jamaicanness I don’t know what else is.

I loved how easy it was to recognize myself in some of these stories. I love how Arthurs made it so easy for anyone to understand and appreciates the little things about being Jamaican and I can truly say this is a book that I would gladly share and encourage my friends (Farin and here) to read because it is a book that I am truly proud of.