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'Seasons' looks at the new Jamaica of the '70s

Published:Sunday | August 31, 2014 | 8:00 AM

Title: A Matter of Seasons

Author: Karl Koth

Reviewer: Glenda Anderson

Karl Koth's new work, A Matter of Seasons, is an engaging revisit of Jamaica in the turbulent '70s - a story told in real terms by believable true-to-life characters.

But far from being a simple historical outline of Jamaica's political groping for a place in world history, then Prime Minister Michael Manley's experiment with democratic socialism and the resulting effect, conversations and expectations across classes - the piece becomes a well-told story of one man's decision to throw himself into the promise of a 'new Jamaica'.

It details his subsequent angst and deliberations on what that really means for himself, his class and his own understanding of the new period.

There are parallels between the author and his protagonist, Doug Austin, a recent graduate of a Canadian university master's programme - who returns home to teach at his old school - following on a government invite.

scholastic journey

Koth completed a master's degree in British Columbia, returned to Jamaica under the Teacher Recruitment Scheme and taught history at St Mary High School in Highgate, St Mary, for two years before returning to Canada. (p. 216)

He says it ends there.

Doug returns to a Jamaica squirming with anticipation about its political future - communism, or no?

But, while the plot is saturated with historical references, locally and internationally - it is not a heavy read.

Its characters and their varying concerns and dilemmas are easily relatable; the on-and-off or unofficial girlfriend, Mary Jean, who needs to know where she stands in Doug's future; James, the lawyer brother, who harbours thoughts of migrating following rumours that Manley is inviting the Russians to set up a 'second Cuba' in Jamaica; and Droopy, the political activist, always on the hunt for someone who can deliver a rousing speech.

If the work suffers at all, it is from the predisposition throughout to solidly explore the perspective of the middle and upper class for the period.

While Doug appears to have sympathies towards the lower class, they are never truly given a voice in the discourse on how the new Jamaica would affect them and their perceived place in it.

There is no true black voice.

character analysis

There are varying summations on their character with Doug given the task to defend.

They are stereotyped as either lazy and incapable of working towards their own success, or hot-tempered, easily riled local people - better off knowing and keeping their place in society.

Doug himself portrays the sympathetic white Jamaican as an oddity, misfit and possibly at risk.

"Even if some do appreciate your efforts, the vast majority will always view you as a white man an yu will never be accepted. All of us have our little place in this society and, as long as we stick to it, we'll be OK ...," David explains.

It is a sentiment variably echoed by the custos, his family and colleagues.

Roth pulls his readers into a story that is at once intensely familiar in its images and constant references to locales on the island - Morgan's Harbour, Long Lane, Windward Road, among others.

Set also in rural St Mary, the reader is taken on regular jaunts into the deep countryside or guided tours of a downtown Kingston, and Port Royal of the 1970s.

History buffs will appreciate the literary connects in the work.