Jamaica used to be the source of much of Britain's wealth, an island where slaves grew sugar and the money flowed in vast quantities. It was a tropical paradise for the planters, a Babylonian exile for the Africans shipped to the Caribbean. It became independent in 1962.
Jamaica is now a country in despair. It has become a cockpit of gang warfare, drug crime and poverty. Haunted by the legacy of imperialism, its social and racial divisions seem entrenched. Its extraordinary musical tradition and physical beauty are shadowed by casual murder, police brutality and political corruption.
Ian Thomson shows a side of Jamaica that tourists rarely see in their gated enclaves. He travelled country roads in buses and met ordinary Jamaicans in their homes and workplaces; and his encounters with the white elite, who still own most of Jamaica's businesses and newspapers, are unforgettable. Thomson brings alive the country's unique racial and ethnic mix; the all-pervading influence of the USA; and the increasing disillusionment felt by its people, who can't rely on the state for their most basic security. At the heart of the book is Jamaica's tense, uneasy relationship with Britain, to whom it remains politically and culturally bound.