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The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica Paperback – 21 Apr 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (21 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568586566
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568586564
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,476,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Ian Thomson is the author of Primo Levi, which won the Royal Society of Literature's W. H. Heinemann Award in 2003. He lives in London.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Thomas Court on 20 Mar. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Heard David Rodigan recommend this on radio a couple of years ago. Purchased it and adore it!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 35 reviews
80 of 81 people found the following review helpful
Incomplete 25 April 2011
By Kelly K - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting read. The writer is obviously well read and versed in film and music history among other things. As a Jamaican, there were historic facts that I was not aware of. However he spoke only of the zinc fences of the ghetto and the secluded estates of the very wealthy. What he left out was the experience of those of us in the middle: educated, middle class Jamaicans who earn an income and are trying to raise our children to be productive citizens of Jamaica, land we love. We live in solidly built homes, we own a dog or two, we hire domestic help and we drive cars. We travel out of Jamaica from time to time. We take our children to see movies, we carry them shopping in regular shopping malls and on long weekends and holidays we drive out of town to go to the beach. We go to see our national dance troupe in concert. We visit the National Art gallery. We eat at great restaurants in the city. Including our stories would have made for a more rounded analysis of this island.
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Misleading Picture of Jamaica 17 May 2012
By Book Lover - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure what the point of this book was, nor why it won some awards. Was to tell the story of life in modern Jamaica? Then why so many detours to talk to Jamaicans who live in England? Was it to talk about the evils of colonialism? Then why so much decrying of Jamaica adopting the ways of America and leaving the British ones aside? As a Jamaican, I cannot say he lied when he talked about the pervasiveness of violence or the fact that 80 percent of babies are born out of wedlock. But the picture is one-sided. It would be like going to the inner-city in the US and writing about crime and unemployment and thinking you'd done a good job of capturing America.

A lot of the people he interviews are white Jamaicans, who are only a very tiny minority of the population. The reason he says, is that "white Jamaicans still wield huge (if not uncontested) power." Then, why not interview more successful ones? He seems to have a fascination with descendants of the planter class who now live in run-down crumbling houses and complain how Jamaica is a hell-hole. He interviews Blanche Blackwell, 95, who now lives in the UK and will never return. Why not her son Chris, who is a successful music producer and hotelier who still lives on the island? And many people who were kind enough to give him a place to stay come in for a scewering.

From my memory, only 2 people he talks with have anything positive to say about Jamaica: jazz musician Ernie Ranglin and the former GG Howard Cooke. People who might have said something positive like Prof. Rex Nettleford are not given the chance -- or if they did it is not recorded in the book.

Despite visiting a rasta compound, a Jewish service and cemetery, a Passa Pass session and a nine night celebration, he can still write that Jamaica has "no recorded ancient history, religion or civilization of its own." Huh? What this is sorely missing is a perspective. He doesn't seem to know what to make of his experiences. He should have talked with a sociologist or historian at one of Jamaica's universities to get some kind of insight into what it all means.

I have been on some of those verandahs when people complain about how horrible it is to live in Jamaica. At some point the conversation will end and people start talking about an upcoming party or something funny that happened on the street or the latest gossip. It appears Thomson didn't stay around for the rest of the conversation. "How well had I understood this place?" he wonders at the end of the book. Not well at all.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Mixed, mostly positive, reaction 13 Feb. 2012
By Boop - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have visited Jamaica as a tourist on two occasions. I've been to the usual places tourists go on the north and west coasts but I also have been to Kingston, the Blue Mountains, Port Antonio and even east of Port Antonio. It was fun reading about places I had been or had at least driven by. Mr. Thomson interviews an amazingly diverse group of people and draws connections between these people (and sometimes historical figures) that are fascinating. I agree with the other reviewers that Mr. Thompson's knowledge of Jamaican music is impressive. Knowing how difficult it is to travel around Jamaica, I admire his perseverance and tenacity. But, I also agree his outlook on Jamaica is somewhat negative, although his mood seems to improve once he leaves Kingston. He actually has two or three positive things to say about the Jamaican countryside: I wish I could have read more about this aspect of Jamaica. Some of the social ills he talks about are not unique to Jamaica although he makes it sound as though they are. Although! Kudos to him for bringing up the sexual exploitation of underage females: This is a MAJOR problem in Jamaica from what I've seen and one that is ignored. He explores extensively what has happened since independence and in doing so he beats a dead horse to death. The book was very obviously written for a British audience.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Psychic dissonance 17 Mar. 2011
By Loraine R - Published on
Format: Paperback
Ian Thomson 's thoroughly researched and engaging anthropological study of modern Jamaica stirs up a truck-load of psychic dissonance as it excavates Jamaicans' uneasy attitudes toward race, class and pervasive violence. In crafting his thought-provoking and insightful account of his first-hand experience and interviews with Jamaicans at home and abroad, the author manages to rattle so many fragile nerves along the way that until recently (he says in the preface to the US edition) most bookstores in Jamaica had refused to carry his book. Indeed, Thomson is a reverse snob who employs his deft wit to skewer whoever or whatever fails to rise to his self-imposed standard of authentic Jamaica. Although he pays lip service, it's apparent that Jamaicans' open-hearted generosity and glorious sense of humor have glided largely unnoticed beneath his radar. Yet, along the way, the author offers some revealing accounts of positive aspects of Jamaican culture, waxing reverential about the country's powerful musical talents and influence. For all the angst caused by the uncomfortable truths exposed within its pages, this book sheds valuable light on the self-defeating assumptions, biases and complacence that persist in modern Jamaica. It's a compelling must-read for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Jamaican history and culture.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Scattershot Travelogue 9 May 2013
By Derek Singer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One need hardly pick up a copy of the Gleaner to know that Jamaica suffers large social and economic problems, but I was hoping to gain some insight into the evolution of Jamaica's politics and how both socialist and capitalist policies have failed. Unfortunately, the author never gets past the surface of these issues. As an American, I have a detailed understanding of how socioeconomic status, race, gender, religion, and other factors play into political preferences. I'm dying to know these same things for Jamaica. This book tends to reduce politics to whichever gang controls your ghetto, which is indicative of one of the book's other major issues: the author deals only with the extremes, the poorest ghettos, the most remote Maroon or Rastafari, and the richest plantocrats. Does Jamaica have no middle class? I've been going to Jamaica for 30 years and have noticed the country starting to modernize, better roads, bigger grocery stores, etc. There does seem to be some improvement, but the author so rarely provides any statistics or metrics to illuminate and contextualize the numerous anecdotes. For all the tremendous hand wringing about nostalgia for pre-independence days and whippersnappers lacking respect, there's zero perspective provided by the younger generations.

The author is also constantly tripping over his own smugness. He would fit right in at Gawker. Within the span of 5 pages, he manages to casually dismiss as mediocre the works of Ian Fleming and Bob Marley. He has to be THAT GUY. I gotcha, man, you have very refined tastes when it comes to reggae. Thanks for showing off at every damn opportunity in the book. Also, I gotcha, you're white and can't handle your weed. You're not what I'm interested in.

To be sure, there are a number of interesting pieces of Jamaican history sprinkled throughout the book, which was the sole reason I trudged through the whole thing. The author just never manages to mesh the history with his travel stories to produce any cohesive themes or theses. And the book constantly jumps decades and centuries back and forth, muddling the timeline of events.

The book tries to be history, travelogue, and political expose and is not good at any of them. I have enough Jamaican friends and family to know that they are not inferior people or lazy or disrespectful. So then the question becomes why have they seemingly failed at democratic government (though failure needs to be actually defined first). Is this just the growing pains of a democracy? It took America nearly 200 years to start getting it right after all. After reading this book, I feel like I know more about Jamaica but don't have a better understanding,
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