In the same way that James Joyce constructed a complex image of Dublin through a collection of short stories in The Dubliners, Kwame Dawes achieves a similar effect here with Jamaica. The stories, which are largely tragic, accumulate in the mind until, at the book's close, you feel as saturated by the author’s description of this country as if it were tropical humidity.
Though the stories are sad and Dawes doesn't flinch when revealing Jamaica's social, political and economic shortcomings, there is a constant feeling that this is a subject he feels a great tenderness towards. This is reassuring in that it means the book doesn't feel too cynical, which makes I even more moving.
Subjects range from tales that depict social problems -- artists who risk becoming outcasts in a town of churchgoers, young entrepreneurs attempting to make money in spite of the country’s troubled economy -- to tackles about more universal subjects like sex and relationships. Sometimes the sadness in the stories is found in a distance between lovers, at other times it’s the death of an innocent child.
Dawes is an established poet and so it is no surprise that the stories are filled with beautifully crafted phrases -- 'the casual song of affluence in the sharp cut of keys in the pocket' as an old man reflects on better days was just one arrangement that made me smile. Thankfully, there is as much attention paid to the broader themes as there is to the particulars of the language used. Delicately constructed yet powerful stuff.