Title: Daughter of the Caribbean
Author: Norma Jennings
Reviewed by: Robyn Miller
With the mass exodus of Jamaicans to the 'mother country' and other parts of the world in the '50s, '60s and '70s, many of Jamaica's sons and daughters who packed their bags and left would, no doubt, be yearning for a taste of their homeland in the year of its golden jubilee.
Norma Jennings, a 'daughter of the Caribbean' who also left for the United States in the '70s, seals her undying love for Jamaica in a meandering and heart-warming 290-page-turner, as she concedes, "Jamaica is calling me again."
Recapturing the nostalgia of post-colonial Jamaica and the trappings of a rural upbringing, complete with a cast that each tells a story of their own, Daughter of the Caribbean weaves a genuinely relatable story for many Jamaicans, and is one that is sure to make readers want to rekindle memories of the good ol' days.
Tackling a range of issues such as the legacies of colonialism, matriarchy, migration, obeah, rape, Jamaica's flirt with democratic socialism, Cuba's revolution in the '50s and, inevitably, death and destruction, the book not only transports readers into a time capsule, but confronts them with the realities of their history.
Several key figures make for an interesting plot in young Jennings' life. Among these are Miss Birdie who, under the guise of returning to church for her hanky, joins her husband Mass Pet in England, leaving her tearful, grief-stricken daughter at Twickenham with her grandmother and feelings of abandonment.
Like her mother, Miss Birdie is seen as the typical, strong Jamaican woman who makes the tough decisions for the good of her family.
But as with many Jamaican families at the time, perhaps no one is more admired than Jennings' grandmother and matriarch of the family, Sedith. Short for Miss Edith, the descendant of a Scottish plantation owner, Sedith has more land than most people in Portland Cottage, Clarendon - all of 218 acres - and the unmistakable "presence of a fallen queen".
Yet the highly respected woman does not allow her obviously privileged life - complete with Cookie, her maid - to cause her to become detached from her community. Instead, she claims her place as the "village matriarch".
capturing the '60s
Jennings captures the '60s well and the pride that many Jamaicans, like Sedith, felt in being able to speak the Queen's English fluently, which she impressed upon her grandchildren in between their childhood exploits.
Sedith's storytelling to the young Jennings, her pubescent half sister, Dahlia, and wide-eyed younger brother Clinton, too, dispenses history lessons that predate the European colonisers. She also aptly captures the determined spirit of the descendants of Africa.
Tracing her lineage to neighbouring Cuba, she fuses the political landscape of Jamaica and that of its neighbours to good effect.
Sedith's storytelling, though, grows thin at some points, making the reader want to scurry back to the real story.
Still, once you navigate that maze, Jennings reclaims her audience and, for the most part, makes the reading experience in Daughter of the Caribbean a pleasant one.
As images of a post-Hurricane Ivan Portland Cottage flash across the closing pages, pain and anguish are replaced only by the sombre mood with which the story is unearthed. As death and destruction become apparent, so too do new beginnings.
Daughter of the Caribbean will appeal to Jamaicans at home and abroad alike, and many will want to make it a keepsake.