Country Focus: Jamaica
The Pirate’s Daughter
Originally published: Unbridled, 2007.
My edition: Random House, 2008. 392 pgs.
Acclaim: Winner of the Essence Literary Award in Fiction
When her father befriends Errol Flynn, teenage Ida falls in love with the Hollywood playboy. They have an affair that leads to the birth of a daughter, May. Flynn abandons them and Ida weds his friend Baron Karl Von Ausberg, a wealthy treasure hunter who is mounting a search for two of Christopher Columbus’s sunken ships. After Flynn dies of a heart attack, Karl buys his island estate and the family moves in. May’s budding relationship with Flynn’s old friends, the Fletchers, serves as yet another connection to her famous father, whom she met only once. Ida and May’s glamorous connections, light skin and black ancestry make straddling Jamaica’s growing racial divide more and more difficult as politics turns their once racially tolerant community violent. Tragedy strikes May’s family and Karl reveals a shocking secret.
In 1946, Errol Flynn’s hurricane-battered boat actually did wash up on the Jamaican coast. He fell in love with the country, bought and lived on Navy Island (just off the country’s northern shore) and gave rise to the nation’s now flourishing bamboo rafting business. Cezair-Thompson’s fauxmance novel invents his affair with Ida. Flynn was friends with another famous Jamaican resident, James Bond novelist Ian Fleming. Fleming’s fictional counterpart in The Pirate’s Daughter is Nigel Fletcher, author of Jack Blaze spy novels. May and Nigel become involved in an serious but unrequited fauxmance. Although both Ida and May spend a lot of time yearning for and sleeping with various men, The Pirate’s Daughter lacks carnality. No bodice-ripping here.
I had expected this book to be a romance. That it was not left me wondering: what was the point of these nearly 400 pages? Flynn, the novel’s MacGuffin, gave the story focus; his death on page 211 resigns the reader to a meandering chronicle of Ida’s and May’s average lives until the dramatic conclusion and no less than three denouements. The cardboard characters are only worth paying attention to when they speak in a deliciously rendered Jamaican patois, as illustrated in this exchange between May and her friend Ian:
“Wha’ ‘appen?” she said pulling up.
“Tryin’ fe get a likkle transport. How far you goin?”
“What happen to you car?” May asked.
“Me sell it las’ week.”
“I not goin’ that way. You need some bus fare?”
“Yes, man. Cyan sell no shirt today.”
“Buy you’self a patty and soda too.”
“Peace an’ love, sista. Irie.”
“You haven’t been over in a long time. Come stay a few days.”
“Is my house too. An’ I’m inviting you, all right?”
A bus came around the corner.
“Run catch you bus,” she said.
The Pirate’s Daughter stretches from 1946-1976, giving Cezair-Thompson ample opportunity to work in Jamaican history and culture, including Port Antonio’s importance as a major banana shipping port in the early 1900s, the Blue Mountains being home to Maroons (the descendants of run-away slaves), the rise of drug use and trafficking within the country, Jamaica’s independence from Britain, and the political violence sparked by the upcoming election between Michael Manley’s People’s National Party and Edward Seaga’s Jamaica Labour Party. Of course, no book set in Jamaica would be complete without featuring ska, reggae and spliffs; Cezair-Thompson’s is no exception.
In my book (or, what Jamaica means to me and maybe you, too)
Jamaican me laugh
My joke repertoire is small (and grade-school reliant). I owe Jamaica for padding it:
Jamaican me crazy!
Jamaican me sing
Jamaica is synonymous with reggae to me now, but I didn’t connect the two until I was in college. A friend of mine had to clue me in. He couldn’t believe that I didn’t know who Bob Marley was and that I had never heard any of his songs: “Dude!? Are you shitting me?” And I said, “Isn’t that the same name as the guy in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Whose face morphs into a door knocker and freaks out Scrooge?”
OK, I’ve got that straightened out now. Jacob Marley is the Dickens character. Bob Marley is the immensely popular Jamaican musician whose hit songs introduced reggae, Rastafari and dreadlocks to millions of listeners around the world. The first Bob Marley and the Wailers album I owned was Confrontation – I wanted the song “Buffalo Soldier.” Then I bought Legend (the best-selling reggae album, with over 10 million copies sold) and wondered, how did I live so long without knowing about this?
Until I met Robin, I figured that Jamaica was sand dollar-flat and that a person would have to climb a palm tree in order to get a view. Robin was my Jamaican co-worker and friend and he informed me that Jamaica’s geography included mountain ranges as well as beaches. His family lived at the base of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, an area that Robin described as “wicked” beautiful. The Blue Mountains boast one of the steepest gradients in the world, rising from zero elevation to 7,402 feet (Blue Mountain Peak, Jamaica’s highest point) in a distance of less than ten miles.
Jamaican lightning Bolt
It’s not unusual to see world records set at the Olympics. So what made Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s 100 meter 9.69 second time at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics so memorable to me? He dominated the field so thoroughly that he felt confident enough to slow down before the race was over. The 6 foot 5 inch tall Bolt, who dwarfs his competitors, then went on to win and set records in the 200 meter and 4×100 meter relay. In the 2009 World Championships, he broke his Olympic 100 meter and 200 meter world records (now set at 9.58 and 19.19 seconds), making him the first man to hold both the 100 and 200 meter World and Olympic titles simultaneously. He is one of the fastest men on earth.