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The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica Paperback – March 29, 2011

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The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica + Jamaica - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture + In Focus Jamaica: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture (The in Focus Guides Series)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Thomson (Bonjour Blanc) offers a portrait of contemporary Jamaica beyond the clichés of "golden beaches and guns, guns, guns." Thomson spoke to Jamaicans from all strata of society: white Jamaicans, beneficiaries of fortunes built on slave labor, now hiding in their crumbling plantation mansions, terrified of the encroaching violence; Rastafarians and Maroons; rabbis and priests; tired bureaucrats and armed youths; Indian and Chinese shopkeepers; the musicians and producers that have exported Jamaican music all over the globe. At times the book is overcrowded with characters and lacks a cohesive argument, but the elegant capsule histories of major figures and events ground the interviews in context. What emerges is a portrait of a country haunted by its colonial past, still trying to define itself apart from the two imperial powers (U.S. and British) that have shaped it thus far, and of a diverse people who struggle to hold on to their hope for a brighter future. (Apr.)
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About the Author

Ian Thomson is the author of Primo Levi, which won the Royal Society of Literature's W. H. Heinemann Award in 2003. He lives in London.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568586566
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568586564
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Kelly K on April 25, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting read. The writer is obviously well read and versed in film and music history among other things. As a Jamaican, there were historic facts that I was not aware of. However he spoke only of the zinc fences of the ghetto and the secluded estates of the very wealthy. What he left out was the experience of those of us in the middle: educated, middle class Jamaicans who earn an income and are trying to raise our children to be productive citizens of Jamaica, land we love. We live in solidly built homes, we own a dog or two, we hire domestic help and we drive cars. We travel out of Jamaica from time to time. We take our children to see movies, we carry them shopping in regular shopping malls and on long weekends and holidays we drive out of town to go to the beach. We go to see our national dance troupe in concert. We visit the National Art gallery. We eat at great restaurants in the city. Including our stories would have made for a more rounded analysis of this island.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Book Lover on May 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure what the point of this book was, nor why it won some awards. Was to tell the story of life in modern Jamaica? Then why so many detours to talk to Jamaicans who live in England? Was it to talk about the evils of colonialism? Then why so much decrying of Jamaica adopting the ways of America and leaving the British ones aside? As a Jamaican, I cannot say he lied when he talked about the pervasiveness of violence or the fact that 80 percent of babies are born out of wedlock. But the picture is one-sided. It would be like going to the inner-city in the US and writing about crime and unemployment and thinking you'd done a good job of capturing America.

A lot of the people he interviews are white Jamaicans, who are only a very tiny minority of the population. The reason he says, is that "white Jamaicans still wield huge (if not uncontested) power." Then, why not interview more successful ones? He seems to have a fascination with descendants of the planter class who now live in run-down crumbling houses and complain how Jamaica is a hell-hole. He interviews Blanche Blackwell, 95, who now lives in the UK and will never return. Why not her son Chris, who is a successful music producer and hotelier who still lives on the island? And many people who were kind enough to give him a place to stay come in for a scewering.

From my memory, only 2 people he talks with have anything positive to say about Jamaica: jazz musician Ernie Ranglin and the former GG Howard Cooke. People who might have said something positive like Prof. Rex Nettleford are not given the chance -- or if they did it is not recorded in the book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Boop on February 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
I have visited Jamaica as a tourist on two occasions. I've been to the usual places tourists go on the north and west coasts but I also have been to Kingston, the Blue Mountains, Port Antonio and even east of Port Antonio. It was fun reading about places I had been or had at least driven by. Mr. Thomson interviews an amazingly diverse group of people and draws connections between these people (and sometimes historical figures) that are fascinating. I agree with the other reviewers that Mr. Thompson's knowledge of Jamaican music is impressive. Knowing how difficult it is to travel around Jamaica, I admire his perseverance and tenacity. But, I also agree his outlook on Jamaica is somewhat negative, although his mood seems to improve once he leaves Kingston. He actually has two or three positive things to say about the Jamaican countryside: I wish I could have read more about this aspect of Jamaica. Some of the social ills he talks about are not unique to Jamaica although he makes it sound as though they are. Although! Kudos to him for bringing up the sexual exploitation of underage females: This is a MAJOR problem in Jamaica from what I've seen and one that is ignored. He explores extensively what has happened since independence and in doing so he beats a dead horse to death. The book was very obviously written for a British audience.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Loraine R on March 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
Ian Thomson 's thoroughly researched and engaging anthropological study of modern Jamaica stirs up a truck-load of psychic dissonance as it excavates Jamaicans' uneasy attitudes toward race, class and pervasive violence. In crafting his thought-provoking and insightful account of his first-hand experience and interviews with Jamaicans at home and abroad, the author manages to rattle so many fragile nerves along the way that until recently (he says in the preface to the US edition) most bookstores in Jamaica had refused to carry his book. Indeed, Thomson is a reverse snob who employs his deft wit to skewer whoever or whatever fails to rise to his self-imposed standard of authentic Jamaica. Although he pays lip service, it's apparent that Jamaicans' open-hearted generosity and glorious sense of humor have glided largely unnoticed beneath his radar. Yet, along the way, the author offers some revealing accounts of positive aspects of Jamaican culture, waxing reverential about the country's powerful musical talents and influence. For all the angst caused by the uncomfortable truths exposed within its pages, this book sheds valuable light on the self-defeating assumptions, biases and complacence that persist in modern Jamaica. It's a compelling must-read for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Jamaican history and culture.
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