History of Paradise

by Karen Schechner


December 2 - December 8, 1999

Culture Shock
Artsy-fartsy news, views and spews.

Performance Review
Merry Christmas, 6457
Harold Pinter's The Hothouse at the Vortex Theatre

Art Pics
Third Annual Silent Art Auction at the Harwood

Art Pics
Mariachi Christmas at Popejoy Hall

Art Pics
Becoming Birds & Fish at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds

Book Review
ReJoyce
Edna O'Brien's James Joyce

Speed Reader
Devil's Hatband
by Daniel Aragón y Ulibarrí

Speed Reader
Jumping the Green
by Leslie Schwartz

Speed Reader
An Exhilaration of Wings: The Literature of Birdwatching
edited by Jen Hill

Arts and Literature Calendar
See, we told you art isn't a dead medium

Speed Reader
(November 25, 1999)

Speed Reader
(November 25, 1999)

Speed Reader
(November 18, 1999)




History of Paradise
by Margaret Cezair-Thompson (Dutton, hardcover, $24.95)

Margaret Cezair-Thompson prefaces her debut novel about Jamaica, The True History of Paradise, with a quote: "The history of these islands can never be satisfactorily told." But then she goes on to disprove it. Cezair-Thompson is so successful in her full depiction of the history of Jamaica, that the main character seems to become lost in it, preferring to dwell in the stories of the past, rather than in her own time.

The novel opens in 1980. Jamaica has declared a state of emergency during what has become, essentially, a civil war, and the main character, Jean Landing, prepares to escape. She travels across a newly-dangerous Jamaica, reflecting back on her life and how her country has slowly changed. While remembering her past, Jean also recalls her culturally mixed ancestral tree, channels their spirits, and allows them to tell their own stories of Jamaica. Each of these characters has a wondrously unique voice. And through the precisely imagined depictions of their speech, struggles and overall philosophies, Cezair-Thompson takes us as close as she can to various points of Jamaica's past. Among others, Jean visits the spirit of her great-great-great grandmother Mary "Iya ilu," a Yoruba slave who tells the tale of when she was abducted from Africa and sold in Jamaica. Upon arrival, she thought she had died and lamented, "I must be in a spirit world, fe all me see is water an' white people."

Cezair-Thompson imaginatively contextualizes Jamaica's history by presenting it from the perspective of Jean and her family, giving The True History of Paradise a wonderful sense of intimacy and depth. But ultimately this approach places most of the novel's vitality in the past. Jean's stories of old Jamaica come alive, while the tone of her present life -- her fleeing Jamaica -- is understandably muted and imbued with despair. As she nears her point of escape, Jean claims the sorrow of her homeland, rather than the hope of her future: "It's too late," she says, "panic and history are mine."


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