Rosana's Reviews > A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard  Hughes
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's review
Oct 22, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2010, nyrb, favorites
Read from January 08 to 09, 2011 — I own a copy

We had a snow storm that lasted 36 hours or so. While the wind howled outside, I sat by the fireplace with this book all day yesterday. I grabbed it again this morning and, funny thing, the storm let down about the time I finished it this afternoon. Now I don’t know if the storm was so bad as I recall it, or it was this disturbing story that made everything look so dark and disquieting for the past 2 days.

First things first, this is not a children’s story. It is not a young-adult story either. It is a very adult and distressing tale, where children happen to be the main protagonists. Hughes genius shows in how well he captures these children’s voices, in special the voice of Emily.

The most delightful passage in this story is when suddenly Emily realizes her own existence. She ponders further that maybe she was herself God. My son, now entering teenage years, also tells about the moment he became aware of his own existence. He was more precocious than Emily, but he does not verbalize the experience as she does either. The point is, we all must at one time come to the same conscious realization, and later forget it. Hughes brings it back in a way that is tender, but also rings with truth.

Most passages though carry a darkness that cannot be erased very easily by Emily’s existential questionings. There is death, murder, rape, lies, jealousy in every page.

The setting also deserves a comment: although I don’t deny that this story may be historically accurate – I would not doubt that newly freed slaves would not kill their previous masters, be it by starvation or more deliberately feeding them ground glass. Piracy was also probably still very common in the middle of the 19th century. Hangings certainly were, and the inefficiency of the judicial system still is. Hughes’ Jamaica and later London are not the Jamaica and London of this realm, but one from a parallel world, barely more colourful than reality, yet different, more comic or caricature.

It just occurred to me that Hughes might have wanted to tell a more real vision of childhood as opposed to Peter Pan – another English story about pirates. I should search this before writing about it, but I won’t. I am ready to let go of this tale, as much as I am ready for the Sun to start shining outside. I am giving it 5 stars because I think it defies genre and time, but I don’t think I will re-read it any time soon. I can only take bleakness on small doses.
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