Book Review | A tale that speaks to today’s concerns
Book: Preke Town
Author: Gary O. Thompson
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
Gary O. Thompson’s Preke Town bridges generations while calling for the rebirth of traditions. Thompson assembles four families in a new environment, a place bedevilled by the unexpected.
Life for Thompson’s characters is a dynamic confluence of circumstances that rattle every semblance of stability. But they are expectant, hopeful for providential reprieve.
All is seamless in the beginning. The families bond quickly, making their past travails a distant memory. Thompson deftly and imaginatively juggles colourful and complementary personalities. It is an enviable feat delivered without labour.
It is summer, and the newly arrived children make quick friends, even cleverly renaming themselves. Their monikers tell a little about their character: Glad-Bag, Yap-Yap, Lay-Lay, and Dulsi. There is boundless levity and frivolity as the children interact and play, but folk tales never die that easily; they are persistent, assaulting modernity with the same unrelieved fervour as they did in bygone years.
Sightings of strange creatures, according to one distraught woman, are not attributed to a “superstitious delusion” but instead to “the construction company’s disobedience where Jamaican traditions are concerned”. She informs the company that “killing a chicken where a new building is being built is traditionally done, and because it was not done in this community, it would forever be haunted”.
For sure, this idyllic, tony neighbourhood has a history, one riddled with the most phantasmagoric of folk tales. A rolling calf and flying crocodile stoke the imagination. “The flying crocodile might get us if we play outside,” the children echo.
Safety is priority
The adults decide to have a wall constructed to at least “block the area … where the crocodile used to be”. The safety of their children is priority.
“We can do it a little at a time.” For another, “I would prefer to do it all at once, though, because I worry about it done, but if we can’t do it all at once, we can do a little at a time. Use once one cocoa full basket. Know what I mean.”
But plans for a summer of ease, a summer of camaraderie and learning for the children, are confronted by an infernal creature lurking around Preke Town.
The children encounter a flying monster after an ill-advised venture outside. Their infraction is met with firm, uncompromising discipline. One dubbed Papa expectedly leads the way with parents in tow. Even talking trees take part in the socialisation process. There is enough reprimanding and counsel to go around. “Your age is not an excuse to be silly … you should pay attention to the things that matter … . One of those things is your safety … . If you can’t make decisions to keep you safe then listen to your parents. Honour them like you were commanded by God.”
The children are well-schooled. They mature – wiser, more deliberate, and more judicious than before.
Papa, the raconteur, emerges as the principal figure in a narrative that is as instructive as it gets. He recalls proverbial tales, one story of a group of children in a rural district who learn from experience the importance of steadfastness, patience, and fulfilling individual obligations.
Don’t stop trying
“Just don’t stop trying, no matter what. Sometimes you make a little improvement but because it wasn’t a big jump, you feel disappointed. Don’t worry, overtime you’ll get there … keep making the little improvements.” Metaphorically, he ends, “One one cocoa full basket.”
In a later meeting with the children, Papa reiterates, “Not everything is about competing with someone else … so focus on doing the best you can. If you do not do well the first time, keep trying harder and harder until you improve.” Further, he cautions against trickery in attaining one’s ambition.
With their parents working over the summer, Papa, the revered elder, assumes the role of guardian. It is a role he takes seriously. He reflects on the responsibility he bears: “[wanting] to make [their] experiences fun.” For this wise man, “they had to learn something every day, or at the least be reminded of some lesson learnt previously.”
Papa is more than the consummate griot. His perspicacity and ability to defuse wily and abrasive encounters do not go unnoticed. Children and adults have much to glean from this ageing man.
Preke Town is an interestingly entertaining work that challenges today’s zeitgeist. It raises the question of filial piety and ethics in modern society. Good parenting, nurturing, discipline, and communal responsibility are unapologetically presented.
Thompson is neither subtle nor attenuating in his timely message. Like Papa, his resolute and austere protagonist, he uses storytelling as the medium to address society’s assault on traditions. With some help from folklore and a band of willing characters, he succeeds.
Publisher: OTIB publishers, JA
ISBN- 13: 978-1727243185
Available on Amazon