An author's refreshing look at Jamaican life in Britain

Published: Sunday | February 3, 2013 Comments 0

  • Title: Pardner Money Stories
  • Author: Deanne Heron
  • Publisher: Hansib Publications, 2011
  • Reviewer: Dr Glenville Ashby

Deanne Heron has produced a blaring narrative - a compilation of short stories, replete with witty jabs, atmospheric levity and colour. Pardner Money Stories captures a quintessential Caribbean family - free- spirited, blasé and poignantly opinionated. It portrays life in Britain, clothed and fashioned in West Indian trimmings. Heron tells an interesting tale - vivacious and vivid - brewed with Jamaican colloquialism - that distinctive brand of Patois. Each rendition is marked, convincing, and meaningful - hardly smothered by its wry and jocular appeal.

In De Ting, Heron's reflection of life in Jamaica through the prism of a six-year-old proves a literary gem. Its nostalgic appeal is almost hypnotic, and highlights the innocence and quaint splendour of the islands. It showcases a time when folklore held sway, and nature delivered our every need. It's a rare glimpse of Jamaica, if not life, stripped of its complexities, moral bankruptcy, and unfettered greed. It yearns for recall, if only we knew how.

'DE TING' OR 'DE SOMET'ING'

Throughout, Jamaican argot - rich, irresistible and ever evolving, flows with reckless abandon. Discussing the code name for money, Heron recalls: "When I was growing up in Jamaica, people rarely referred to money. It was always 'de ting' or 'de somet'ing'." She reflects on her grandmother's counsel before sending her on an errand, "When yu pass Breda Joseph, call to him and ask him to give yu de t'ing. Nuh go ina di yard, far him ha' two fool fool daag de wi' bite yu. Then pass by Sister Gwen and ask har fi give yu fi har t'ing to."

But life in the adopted country is where the intriguing plot unfolds. When Ferdie Dragon Stopped Walking the Trail, Heron uses satire to italicise the importance of preventative care ‹ a shortcoming that continues to bedevil black families. Loss of virility could well be a diabetic symptom - deadly serious - and not fodder for amusement. Clearly, this is the overriding message amidst all its humour.

Family squabbles and verbal sparring are ubiquitous, but the close-knit unit is never torn asunder. And there is always that healthy dose of political commentary. An avowed pride in the political accomplishments of women is evident so much so, that cousin Babsie refuses to holiday in Jamaica upon learning that the country's first female prime minister is no longer at the helm. While this may appear trite, it highlights the sometimes paradoxical but inextricable socio-political bond that the diaspora shares with the islands. There is that yearning for female empowerment on the national stage, long described and respected as the "centre pole" of the family. This matrilineal strain permeates Heron's work. It is refreshing and instructive, especially for readers unfamiliar with the Caribbean society.

Pardner Money Stories rivets with topical issues such as ageing, mortality, religion. And snapshots of the first Jamaicans in Britain are delivered with pawky humour. A salvaged backyard barbecue with culinary delights and island sounds becomes the stage for a discourse on ethnicity, race, and nationality. "If you are born here, you are Black British, if you weren't born here, then you are Jamaican. Yu caan be both," one family member argues. The exchange heats up: "Why nobody nuh seem to notice how Britain and America a use up poor black people, especially Jamaicans, fi win medal fi dem." And in the same breath, we are treated with: "Dem wan' give dem white athlete deh some callaloo an' fresh fish. Yu t'ink Usain Bolt could an'run like dat if him maddah did bring him up on pot noodle and fish an' chips?"

Even the usually doleful funerary climate is replaced by celebratory family quibbles and reflections. And no work of this kind is complete without tackling racism (perceived or real), and police-minority relations.

From Aunty Dar's Funeral to Valentine, Pardner Money Stories triumphs on multiple levels. Its characters burst on the scene with daring and effervescence. They are unique, endearing, and memorable - a kaleidoscope of complimentary personalities and idiosyncrasies. Sure, they are very British, but at the same time, overwhelmingly Jamaican. Heron has undoubtedly scored with this deftly written work of art.

Rating: Recommended

Follow me on Twitter@glenvilleashby or email: glenvilleashby@gmail.com.

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