The Children of Sisyphus
This brutally poetic book, first published in 1964, much admired by C.L.R. James, brings to the lives of its wretched characters an intensity that, as they shed illusions, whether of the dreams of redemption preached by the revivalist churches or of the myth of Rastafarian return, invests them with tragic depth.
Orlando Patterson
ISBN number
Caribbean Modern Classics
Fiction, Novel
Country setting
Publication date
28 Feb 2012

Dinah is a prostitute who lives with her Rastafarian fisherman partner in the Dungle, the rubbish heap where the very poorest squat. She refuses to accept his passivity and his patriarchal attitudes and leaves him. But she is no more satisfied by the materially more secure, but suffocating life she takes up with Alphanso, a worthy but dull police constable. When she discovers that her rival Mabel has set an obeah curse on her that will prevent her from ever really escaping the dungle she is forced into a more profound sense of the underlying meaninglessness of life. But involvement with a revival church and the favour of Shepherd John, who proposes a new life outside Jamaica leads her to the delusion that she has found escape and meaning. Patterson's accomplishment in his portrayal of Dinah is to create the inner life of a woman with no social or educational advantages that is both moving and persuasive.

The other main plot element focuses around Brother Solomon, respected leader of the Rastafarian group in the dungle. He allows his followers to think that the current mission to Ethiopia is going well, and the ship to take them home will soon come. But Brother Solomon has seen the void, the meaninglessness of it all and has been consciously fooling the group because he wants to bring them too to a state of heightened consciousness of the absurdity of life. Patterson, for all his scepticism about Rastarianism as a movement that can make change, is nevertheless sympathetic and exacting in his portrayal of the dignity of the group's behavious and their poetic, searching spirit.

The introduction by Kwame Dawes notes, amongst other things, how long before reggae became a public phenomena, Orlando Patterson taps into the well-springs of language and popular culture out of which reggae grew and defined the nation.


Orlando Patterson

Horace Orlando Patterson was born in Westmoreland, Jamaica, on June 5, 1940. He grew up in Clarendon in the little town of Maypen.
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