At Monte Carlo, the notorious Casino is off-limits to the native Monagesques, – except for one day a year. A similar injunction should perhaps be applied to Jamaicans and other West Indians with regard to this book; we might read it at Christmas only, when in any case the general aura turns our environment rosy-hazy. The prohibition would lie not in the price of the book – the fine quality paper, print and photographs as well as the numerous commissioned contributors justify the forty-two shillings – but, in its intentions and aims. These are – as is made clear from the editor’s preface and emphasised throughout, to introduce and tempt prospective investors, tourists and wealthy residents to the island. The effect has been ably and skilfully carried out; indeed from one angle the Tourist Board’s publicity wing could certainly do worse than purchase and distribute strategically, a few thousand copies of this hard-cover brochure. Why, then, should it be verboten to Jamaicans? Why, as the suggestion implies, should one look at it critically and at some length instead for example o supporting the standard “rave” of the “Sunday Gleaner’s” critic? (Hic.)
To be completely fair to any production, regardless of its claims to any artistic merit, one should tackle it on its own premises. This applies particularly to a book like this, which can always plead misjudged intentions. Unfortunately, to do that, this reviewer would have to shed over a quarter of a century of Jamaican birth, education and experience. Nevertheless, one may still attempt an assessment, in view of its widespread circulation and sale, from the possible seat of someone attracted to the island by the book, – though even from this angle the volume collapses from the sheer weight of the lack of honesty – unconscious or cynical – which pervades the book. Most of the following comments refer to eleven of the sixteen chapters, and the appendices; excepting only the chapters on Cooking, Stamps, Skin-diving, Birds and Natural History.
Fleming himself is now dead, and one should try to speak no ill of him; one may instead let the spirit of his own words do the job – though in fairness to him his claim of comprehensiveness for the book, which was actually completed after his death, could have been removed. He begins with generalised comments about Jamaicans – their drinking, obeah, fast driving, etc. His comments ignore the class-consciousness of our society, except in the last part of the chapter an almost verbatim reprint of a 1947 article of his, which describes a life in Jamaica very close in spirit to the “pink gin and verandah” colonial atmosphere he himself suggests rejecting in the former British territories in Asia and Africa. The man who created Mistress Big and “chigroes” in his novels also assures us that he has come to appreciate coloured people, while advising against casual miscegenation – a mere three hundred years too late …. Like most of the other contributors he says nothing really bad about the country – except for an easily disproved, if picturesque, libel that most working class Jamaicans frequently get drunk. In final irony – he died at 56 – he refers to our healthy climate. Though one has to concede that Jamaica may not be directly responsible for this and – regrettably – that a foreign North-coaster could easily share most of his conclusions.
Can we however, similarly excuse Cargill, this brilliant and very well informed Jamaican journalist and broadcaster who, at his polemic best, would not be disgraced by a comparison with any of his ilk anywhere? Why does he for example, as a Buddhist, make orthodox Christianity the norm for Jamaica? Why, as editor, after making a claim that sex per se is unimportant to the average Jamaican, does be lay such a stress on sexy beauties in the photographs? ( – eight out of 27). What will our investors say when they discover for themselves a young socialist movement, a leftist P.N.P. and vigorous unions? (Always being criticised in fact by Cargill the journalist). Who is Cargill to decide on the fitness of inter-class relationships? How would he explain away the immediate recognition that the construction “boom” has had few “concrete” manifestations at the bottom of our society? There is much good sense on our “feminine” attitudes and on religion, but this chapter does Cargill no justice – the gloss conceals a great deal of critical roughage.
Heame’s history is – by contrast – brilliant, and his chapter easily the best written in a very well-written book; his conclusions, too, generally in a line of integrity with his previous positions. There are, however, several disputable points in his thesis. While, for example, he seems too harsh on the early Europeans in Jamaica, he has made modem Jamaica seem too “soft”. He mentions 1865 and 1938, but ignores our long and recurrent record of “minor” political and racial violence. It is possible too that the “softness” in our character which he attributes to African sophistication may actually come from English indoctrination. (Though his point on African sophistication is well taken).