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Thomson, Ian, The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica (London: Faber & Faber, 2009).

Jamaica used to the source of much of Britain's wealth, an island where slaves grew sugar and the money flowed out in vast quantities. It was a tropical paradise for the planters, a Babylonian exile for the Africans shipped to the Caribbean. Since independence in 1962, it has gradually become associated with a new kind of hell, a society where extreme violence has become ordinary and gangs control the areas where most Jamaicans live.

Ian Thomson's brave new book explores a country of lost promise, a country that most older Jamaicans in Britain cannot recognise as their own. Once a beacon of optimistic third world politics, the island is now sunk in corruption, hopelessness and drug wars. Jamaica's music was once the lilting anthem of idealists everywhere; now it is a repetitive glorification of homophobia and violence.

Thomson walks the streets and rides the buses that most middle-class Jamaicans, let alone white visitors, avoid like the plague. He describes poverty, the reality of gang rule and police brutality. He meets Jamaicans who are trying to make a difference, and astonishingly complacent members of the elite.

This is an unforgettable portrait of a country that has had a huge influence on British culture, for good and ill.


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