The Hills Were Joyful Together
This starkly brutal novel, set during the Second World War, catches Jamaica at a point of change, but few amongst the poor and black find new beginnings.
Introduction by Jeremy Poynting.
Roger Mais
ISBN number
Caribbean Modern Classics
Fiction, Novel
Country setting
Publication date
08 May 2017

For the poor and black in this starkly brutal novel little has changed since slavery. Surjue, like others in his Kingston yard, is struggling for survival when he is persuaded to take part in a robbery. He is arrested, tried and sentenced to the brutal world of a Jamaican colonial prison, though imprisonment describes life both inside and outside jail.

First published in 1953 and set during the Second World War, Mais’s novel catches Jamaica at a point of change as country people flock into Kingston, but few find new beginnings. There are visions of modernity brought by the Hollywood noir movies that offer destructive role models for some of the novel’s characters, but film also provides Mais with an effective model for his narrative with its powerful mise-en-scene of yard life and the rapid intercutting between episodes that generates tension and excitement. Above all, at a time when the actual homicide rate in Jamaica was very low, Mais writes prophetically about a propensity for violence deeply embedded in the country’s history, a violence both of the state and those who refuse to accept their poverty and marginalisation. In this respect, The Hills Were Joyful Together powerfully anticipates Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings.


With an introduction by Jeremy Poynting.


Roger Mais

Roger Mais was born into a comfortable, educated middle-class Jamaican family, spending his boyhood in the Blue Mountains region where his father took up farming. For the earliest part of his childhood he was taught at home and received a thorough grounding in the Bible, whose language and cadences are heard in his work. He entered Calabar High School in Kingston, but made little use of the Cambride certificate he obtained. From the age of 17 to his 30s he earned his living in a variety of jobs, office work, selling insurance, overseer on a banana plantation and as a reporter-photographer and a variety of other journalistic occupations.
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