The Dead Yard: A Story Of Modern Jamaica, by Ian Thomson
Although I must admit that this story was deeply interesting, if more than a little bit troubling, concerning the fate of contemporary Jamaica and its discontent, the author’s belief that Jamaica as a republic would be able to overcome the lingering issues of its ties with the United Kingdom seems more than a little bit of wishful thinking. Regardless of whether Jamaica remains a Commonwealth nation with its Governor-General, or whether it seeks to become an entirely independent republic will not make a difference for either its tangled and complex history or in the fact that Jamaica is a small state that may be much larger than most independent Caribbean nations but is by no means able to deal with the UK and the US on an equal level. No amount of posturing or existence as a republic as opposed to a Commonwealth nation is going to affect that. And also, no assertions about its political status are going to make it a better-governed nation, with lower corruption and violence. The change that Jamaicans need is a change that can only come from within themselves, and they do not seem inclined to make those changes.
This book is about 350 pages and is divided into 26 chapters. As a prose stylist, the author clearly knows his business, moving from one area to another and transitioning well from one chapter to another as he examines the relationship between Jamaican music and sports and politics and culture, and the influence of Jamaica on James Bond as well as the influence of slavery on so many aspects of Jamaica’s history and contemporary problems. The author connects the aftermath of slavery with the unwillingness of Jamaicans to improve their customer service abilities, as serving was equated with slavery, and the resentment to tyranny as encouraging an unwillingness to be governed at all that has made it impossible for Jamaica to deliver on the promises that it made to itself in the aftermath of independence. As is frequently the case, the post-colonial legacy has demonstrated that formal freedom, when it is not accompanied by forgiveness and wisdom on the part of local leadership, does not amount to an improvement in the lives of people. Jamaica is no different than any host of post-colonial disasters in that it has mistaken formal political freedom for having the wherewithal to be a respectable and decent nation in the eyes of its people and in the eyes of the larger world. And all the author’s anecdotes about the music business or politics doesn’t make that any less so.
This book is a series of intriguing tales about Jamaica from a fairly typical left-leaning journo from the UK whose experiences in Jamaica reveal an island with a tangled history and some major problems. The author’s left-leaning bias prevents him from seeing the predictable nature of Jamaica’s slow growth in light of its leftist economic policies (free everything!) and its rampant tax avoidance/evasion, a predictable result of leftist political policies, as well as its unsurprising rampant corruption as well as the violence that binds its corrupt political system together with the drug lords of its urban areas. Jamaica has all the makings of a failed state, and it has vainly sought for some means of developing or finding a resource that would allow it to take advantage of its natural beauty and its closeness to regional trade routes. Instead, it has fading plantation houses, a high degree of rural and urban poverty, a lack of trust in government by the people, who themselves remain impervious to being governed, and a host of internal divisions based on ethnicity, class, religion, and politics. If the author is critical, and he is, he does not seem necessarily optimistic, and I see no reason to be either in reading this.