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4.2 out of 5 stars
A High Wind in Jamaica (New York Review Books Classics)
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107 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
On its surface, Hughes' High Wind in Jamaica is the story of two families of young cchildren, sent home to England by their parents following a cataclysmic hurricane that levels their plantation in Jamaica. Subsequently the children are kidnapped by pirates; the book follows their story until their eventual return to England. The pirates turn out to be, for the most part, well-intended and even protective of the children, but by the end of the story the same cannot really be said of the children themselves, whose behavior at points seems threatening and malevolent by comparison to their captors.
Others have made a comparison between this book and "Lord of the Flies," both because of their stories of children torn apart from the moorings of civilization, and for their undercurrent emotion of malevolence, darkness, and evil. To my mind, Hughes' intent is broader than that, and I actually prefer "High Wind" to its rival. Hughes is also exploring a more general theme of alienation and the kind of moral emptiness that accompanies it: child vs. adult, plantation owners vs. slaves, the wild of Jamaica vs. the civilized form of the British Empire, each unknowing and thus cruel to the other.
The ending is actually shocking, a perfect end to this highly unconventional but perfectly-pitched book. One of my "best ever" novels.
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62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book. Short, swift and very bloody, Hughes tells a story of children as seperate from adult human nature and explores the ways in which children can cope with danger and catastrophe in the light of the usual adult nervous fumbling. It is a psychological portrait, but is so much more as well. An exciting action-adventure; an epic on nature and the sea; a ruthless story of pirates in the age of their decline; a terrifying masterwork detailing the lies all people must tell themselves in order to survive.
It is difficult to sum up exactly what is going on throughout the book, event leading to action leading to betrayal leading to another fun game. In the end the book might even be read as a comedy--that of a pessimist attacking both human nature and the world--and I must admit that throughout several of the more harrowing scenes I found myself laughing in self-defense.
Great, great stuff, beautifully written and compelling. I wouldn't presume to guess how any one individual might take it and that, to me, the unexpectedness of the whole thing, is what constitutes some of the greatest masterpieces. Very highly recommended--
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
I'll never be able to say the MLA's list of the greatest novels of the 20th Century was a total waste, because it made me aware of this book's existence.
I'd never heard of "A High Wind in Jamaica," and had a hell of a time trying to find it---I ended up in the basement of a branch of my public library (I guess I shouldn't be endorsing the use of libraries on Amazon's site, but I can't afford to buy every book I want to read---sorry, Amazon). Once I started it, I couldn't put it down.
I'm always wishing I could find books like the ones it seems are only written for children. Kids get great books---full of adventure and fantasy and harrowing escapes, etc. It always sounds fun to go back and read books that enthralled me as a kid so I can recapture the same feelings that filled me then. But it never works. I can never get into kids' books in the same way, no matter how hard I try.
"A High Wind in Jamaica" is like a children's book written for adults. It's got all the right elements: tropical locations, a harrowing storm, pirates, murder. But the psychological element Richard Hughes gives to the story adds a dark, brutal dimension that children's books are often missing altogether or only skate briefly by.
This novel has a wonderful way of seeing events through the eyes of a child, and it functions as a sort of warning not to forget that children, though maybe possessing less life experience than adults, are capable of feeling the same emotions and, more importantly, have the potential to be just as brutal. In fact, Hughes suggests that children may actually be more brutal, since they have less of a knowledge base from which to understand and weigh consequences.
I don't want to make this book sound over burdened with rhetoric and psychobabble, however. It's a fast-paced, tense novel, with a menacing tone constantly present just under the surface. Hughes creates beautiful images of Jamaica in the book's early chapters, and paints a vivid picture of life at sea later on.
If I actually had any money, I would buy the rights to this book, because it would make a great movie.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Richard Hughes's "A High Wind in Jamaica" is a subtle dark comedy that explores the contrast between how adults and children perceive their surroundings and the psychology of child-adult relations. Written in a loose, informal style, it is a fast, fun, yet compelling read.
The Bas-Thorntons are an English family living on an estate in Jamaica some time in the late 19th Century. They have five children ranging in age from about twelve to three. When their house is demolished in a hurricane, the parents decide to send the kids back to England to spare them from future potential danger and emotional trauma.
The kids sail back to England on a small ship called the Clorinda, accompanied by two friends whose parents also are staying in Jamaica. Soon the Clorinda is overtaken by a schooner bearing pirates, who rob it of its cargo and kidnap the children. It is not the pirates' intention to detain the children for long, but the captain of the Clorinda, believing that the pirates have murdered the kids, escapes the encounter and notifies the Bas-Thornton parents of the unfortunate incident.
The pirates, as the children soon discover, are not very menacing and not very competent in the moribund business of piracy. They stop at a coastal village in Cuba and try to auction off all the cargo from the Clorinda but meet with indifference from the villagers. Failing to slough the kids off on the village's Chief Magistrate, the pirates resume cruising around the Caribbean with a cargo of unwanted brats. As the kids eventually adopt the schooner as their new playground, the pirates' captain begins to take on a role akin to a hapless school bus driver, a fortuitous babysitter and awkward disciplinarian. Meanwhile, the kids fantasize about becoming pirates themselves and taking over the ship someday.
Two important events in the story involve the deaths of two characters, one by accident and the other by murder. Neither is directly the pirates' fault, but they must stand trial for the crimes when they are betrayed by the children after their "rescue."
From reading this plot summary, you can tell that this book is bursting at the seams with irony. As other reviewers have pointed out, it could be compared to William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" (which it predates) and O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" (which it doesn't), but it avoids the serious sociopolitical implications of the former and the shallow slapstick of the latter, ultimately finding an original niche somewhere between the two.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Richard Hughes's 1929 odyssey, A High Wind In Jamaica -- which has been included in the Modern Library's List of "The 100 best English-language novels of the century"--forces the reader to revisit that moment when children lose their innocence to the world; that diaphanous transference from childhood to adulthood that can be so heartbreakingly revelatory. In this tale, it rides in on a torrent of bad weather seemingly induced by an earthquake.

Emily Bas-Thornton has just turned ten in Jamaica and has had a wonderful birthday exploring the island, meeting a group of indigenous people and receiving their good faith gifts. But just a few days later, Margaret Fernandez, a neighbor, a bit older then Emily, announces that she can smell an earthquake. Thus the trouble is ushered in as the children cartwheel across the rumbling ground, and their pet, a feral cat, is pursued by predators through the Bas-Thornton house and into the jungle where its otherworldly yowls punctuate the night.

Soon afterward the Bas-Thornton's decide to ship their five children back to England. From this point in the novel, things go terribly wrong as the young troupe is mistakenly kidnapped by a hapless band of Caribbean pirates. Hughes's quirky writing style enhances the dream-like quality of the narrative: seemingly important characters die without the bat of an eyelash, good seems bad, and right seems wrong from the vertiginous heights of the reader's crow's nest.

From the primitive wilderness of the Caribbean Islands to the hyper-civilized atmosphere of an English Central Criminal Courtroom, the novel follows a logical if allegorical arc; but does Hughes mean to describe this arc as progressive or regressive?

A High Wind in Jamaica is one of those books that lulls the reader into a long and languorous torpor. Then it shakes you, slaps you and says "snap out of it".
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This review will be short and read about as fast as this excellent book. I'm so glad I found it, late in life as it is - when I can appreciate language and character-study. The other reviews reveal the thread of the story, but none seem to mention Hughes' craft in juxtapoisng the characters with fate. Not their particular fates, fate in the large sense. Mr. Hughes presents situations more comfortable in reality, not fiction - but, of course, that is what good authors delight in. There are children and adults here, but they mix like oil and water. Natural disaster (applied to loss and human suffering), the physical properties of water, wind, and the motion of ships all clash with character options - what we call happenstance. These options prove just as fallable after everyone is safely ashore, where old and young struggle to co-operate in a conclusion to the adventures of chance, which fate controls there as it blindly condemed and saved on the sea. Justice and maturity might be the overriding theme of High Wind in Jamaica - a teriffic novel that shouldn't be compared to Lord of the Flies, which explores another path (absence of adults among boys facing adversity). How Hughes convincingly represents the reasoning of pirates, court officials and children of both sexes is why this novel is a gem.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
I almost didn't read this book when it was compared to Lord of the Flies, but I found it to be more like Animal Farm myself. Maybe I read too much into it, but I thought the opening sentence, "One of the fruits of Emancipation in the West Indian islands is the number of ruins..." set an interesting tone of the obstacles of emancipation whether in children, slaves, or through revolutions. There are scenes where the church's good intentions lead to death, scenes where assumed loyalties mean next to nothing, scenes of people (or causes) overly impressed with their own importance, scenes where pigs (governments?) are referred to such as, "You would never have thought that the immobile mask of a pig could wear a look of such astonishment..." and (also refering to a pig) "When Destiny knocks the first nail in the coffin of a tyrant, it is seldom long before she knocks the last", and scenes towards the end where history is conveniently rewritten. It interesting to me that this book was written in the 1920s -- maybe it was a stretch of my imagination, but I could see a lot of Russian revolution in the book. That is not the amazing part though, the amzing part is that so many take-overs, wars, conflicts, and liberations since seem to have followed (and continue to follow) similar patterns as those of the children in the book. Anyway, enjoy! It kept me interested while making me think!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
I first read this marvelous book as a young teenager. At the time I was appalled, even a bit frightened, by the story of Emily.

Having just reread the novel, I liked it as much as then, but found I had recollected it differently, or perhaps misunderstood the story. I was, this time, somehow not quite as appalled. Probably the fact of having seen too many bland fictional killings on TV since then has numbed me to the effect of violence.

More importantly, this time I had a strong sense that, beneath the adventure story, this book is a work of philosophy. It is all about what we are as humans, and particularly what we adults once were as children. The author's opinion seems to be that children are savages concealing themselves beneath a mere spider's web of polite respectability. I am sure he is right about that, but I would add that, at base, adults are no different.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
I must have re-read "A High Wind In Jamaica" at least a dozen times since first reading it in high school. It remains one of my favorite novels. It is a finely-drawn portrait of a certain era, but its depiction of the fears and fantasies inside the children's heads is timeless. Its humor, though definitely on the dark side, is first rate: there are passages that never fail to make me laugh out loud, despite the fact that I have read them many times before. The ending, however, is disquieting, and it is easy to see why this novel is often compared to "Lord of the Flies."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
There's a peculiarly boring film version of this, made in the 1960s, which is interesting only because it features the English novelist Martin Amis, then a fetching blond teenager, in a supporting role. Good books often make bad films, and this is a very good book indeed. Richard Hughes had never been to Jamaica when he wrote this remarkably vivid story about a colonial family in the nineteenth century. Jamaica, as Hughes describes it, is a wild and lush paradise for the Bas-Thornton children - but a paradise from which they are soon to be expelled. After a hurricane devastates the island, their parents decide that the five children (Martin's one of them, in the movie) must be sent back to England. But they have not got far before their ship is attacked by pirates, and the children are kidnapped. The ordeal which follows is a dramatic and unexpected one - for the children, led by the tomboyish Emily, are more than a match for the brutal Captain Jonsen and his crew. Not a children's book as such, but a novel about childhood, this powerful adventure story has been compared to William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954). The vivid, laconic style is a considerable achievement - and the ending, especially the last sentence, is one of the wonders of literature.
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