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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On-the-edge travel writing.
Most writers accounts of travelling to Jamaica revolve around how scared they are to leave the resort without an armed security guard, so full respect to Mr Thomson for travelling not only through Kingston but out to the villages, bringing back reports from a vibrant, colourful and often violent developing world frontline that has all but slipped off most Westerner's...
Published on 22 April 2009 by A. Miles

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The guilty shame of a middle class liberal
I can't help wondering why the author wrote this book. Was it to provide an insight into Jamaica or was it to prove what a right-on modern liberal he is? His insistence throughout the book of blaming everything on Britain is so typical of English middle class leftie types. The rule he employs is basically that anything positive in Jamaican culture can be traced back to...
Published on 9 Sep 2010 by Agricola


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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The guilty shame of a middle class liberal, 9 Sep 2010
I can't help wondering why the author wrote this book. Was it to provide an insight into Jamaica or was it to prove what a right-on modern liberal he is? His insistence throughout the book of blaming everything on Britain is so typical of English middle class leftie types. The rule he employs is basically that anything positive in Jamaican culture can be traced back to Africa, while anything negative is a legacy of slavery or colonialism.

He complains at one point that Britain abandoned Jamaica after independence, but then gripes continually that Britain still has an influence over the Island. Which one is it? He seems to go to great lengths to find people who are still clinging to a sense of Britishness - it's not surprising that most of them are very old! The truth is that to most Jamaicans Britain is just another foreign country, and the only things that strengthens the links between the two are that a) a lot of British tourists go there and b) a lot of Jamaicans have family in Britain. I have never met anyone in Jamaica who shows any reverence towards Britain; the island is far more aligned with America these days. There are strong arguments to suggest that the US government and the IMF are far more responsible for Jamaica's modern decline that Britain is, but that is scarcely mentioned. Why no mention of Kingston's free zone for example?

The culture of Jamaica is overwhelmingly about the working class people of Kingston - why didn't he focus on them instead of hunting down obscure descendants of plantation owners or snobby returnees? He only seemed to want to interview `name brand' people. And why no mention of the town / country divide that defines many Jamaicans' identities?

If this book was supposed to be about alternative and minority cultures in Jamaica then the author did a good job: much of the information about groups such as the Jews and Scots is fascinating. I did actually enjoy the book, but it seemed to be driven more by the author's own political views than Jamaica itself. Probably got a good review in the Guardian though...
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Book of Doom and Gloom, 5 Nov 2010
By 
Andy Stewy "Andy" (New York, New York United States) - See all my reviews
I had the misfortune of reading the Dead Yard by Ian Thomson, a book of doom and gloom, as this author sets out to expose the dark side of Jamaica. Any hint of goodness is quickly dismissed by Mr. Thomson as he paints a picture of hell that is my beloved country. Every successive chapter is filled with more doom and gloom than the last as Ian goes out of his way to highlight every nasty disgusting aspect of the Jamaican society. If this writer had stated that there was a Jamaican connection to the World Trade Center attack, I would not be too surprise. He seems clearly upset about Jamaica's independence from Britain, he hates the idea that Jamaica is now being influence by the United States and the fact that Britain turned her back on Jamaica and the empire and so now we get an idea of what Ian Thomson is about.

Anyone can write a book about the dark side of any country as every country have a dark side but to make the dark side the norm is criminal, pure evil, this writer dislikes Jamaica for some reason and understands like most of the British media outlets that negativity sells especially when it comes to Jamaica. Does Jamaica have problems, yes, does Jamaica have a crime problem, yes, but one can ask the same about most countries, including the United Kingdom. The Author interviews several prominent, wealthy Jamaicans who are not of African descent and several none Jamaicans who now lives in Jamaica; they all seem to take pleasure in their raciest description the black population. One would think he was interviewing members of the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south of America or party members of the British National Party. The population of Jamaica like most other countries is diverse, it is made up of people of different races and different historical background and yet the author is shocked to find out that Jamaica suffers from normal human traits that exist in almost every country with a diverse population.

As Jamaicans we understands the problems that we face more than anyone else, we know the negative aspect of our society, we experience it day in day out and it is something we as Jamaicans are fighting to overcome every day. We also know the positives aspects of our society of which there are many, we see it every day and we experience it every day and it is there for all to see but some are blind and that is not what sells. Books like Dead Yard and writers like Ian Thomson exist to kill all hopes, dreams and aspirations of a people. If someone was to compile everything that is negative about the British society and pack it into one book, then they would achieve the same objective. If Jamaica is a failed state then I lay the blame for that failure at the foot of every Jamaican who have migrated from the early 1900s, from the Windrush runners to present day, faced with a chance and a challenge to build a society they choose to turn their backs on their birth right and to suffer and struggle in another man's country at the expense of their own, nation builders they are not.

I see nothing positive about this book, it brings nothing new to the table, it offers no solutions and given the fact that the foreign media only reports bad, negative things about Jamaica it adds nothing new to the way people in other countries view Jamaica. However it reinforces my belief that what is important is how we Jamaicans think about ourselves and the future of our country. We cannot and will not let others like Ian Thomson control or define how we think or who we are. As Jamaicans we are given one of the greatest challenges a human being could face, to take one of the most fertile and the most beautiful land mass on this planet and convert it into a country where all of its inhabitants can live in peace and prosper, to build a nation state future generations of Jamaicans can be proud of. Great Britain left us with nothing but we are determined to create something. Yes we have had set backs along the way but I believe we will get it right, we are a young nation still growing but we will get there.

The tourist boards of Great Britain do not promote football hooliganism, life in impoverish council estates, English Defense League race riots, pub fights, public drunkenness, stabbings and murders in Britain and as such I do not see any reason why the Jamaica Tourist Board should. The author performs interviews after interviews with people who left Jamaica decades ago, with each one giving their own out of date opinion on Jamaica over the years. The very idea that people who have migrated, who turned their backs on their birth right could then turn around and make statements about the lack of growth and development in Jamaica, is to me extremely insulting, here we have a group of people, some of whom left Jamaica for over 30 and 40 years, never returned, most no longer call themselves Jamaican, having never lift a finger to build our nation state, thinking that they somehow have earned the right to make these statements about my country.

The fact is each of the events reported in the book are almost always negative but not unique to Jamaica, however this is not an issue for Ian who only wants negativity presented as if it is unique only to Jamaica. If anything positive is said during his interviews we would never know about it because Ian would never report it, that's not the purpose of The Dead Yard.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars ...not the whole picture at all...., 10 Jun 2009
By 
Jazz wallah (west of parade) - See all my reviews
I found this book pretty disappointing - basically, Thomson has interviewed & met [mostly] middle & upper-class Jamaicans, nearly all of whom are disillusioned with post-independence Jamaica. It seems he never had the links to get into the ghetto areas and talk to oridinary people. Instead he talks to remnants of the old aristocracy, middle class intellectuals, and Jamaican people who returned from abroad. As a white man who has visited Jamaica 15 times since 1992, I had a completely different experience, but I also have a lot of friends there too. Yes, it's a rough place, plenty of pointless murders, but plenty of vitality and energy too. And living in east London, there are pointless murders here too, stabbings and the like - it's not just Jamaica. He simplifies very crudely the development of modern Ja music too, saying that it comprises "dull, computerised rhythms", which is nonsense to anyone who knows anything about that music.
On the good side, he's spot on about the dismal colonial abandonment of Jamaica by Britain, not much reward for being a great wealth-producing colony for 400 years. Still that's the good old English for you. Don't let this put you off going to Jamaica, particularly if you like the Reggae & dancehall music.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On-the-edge travel writing., 22 April 2009
By 
A. Miles (Al Khor, Qatar) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Most writers accounts of travelling to Jamaica revolve around how scared they are to leave the resort without an armed security guard, so full respect to Mr Thomson for travelling not only through Kingston but out to the villages, bringing back reports from a vibrant, colourful and often violent developing world frontline that has all but slipped off most Westerner's radars over the past few decades. entwining culture, politics, music and history, it's an enthralling read. This is real dangerous, on-the edge travel he's doing, not the kind of fake adventurism most travel writers transcribe. Recommended.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So Close yet so Far Away, 8 Jun 2010
By 
Everything in this book is true. But, this being Jamaica, at the same time none of it is true. It's a bit like the lady who flew in on the morning flight and had lunch in Jamaica, before leaving on the afternoon flight to write the Jamaican entry in a Caribbean cookbook. Apart from the author's general lack of graciousness to his seemingly generous hosts, the book totally lacks any kind of attempt to seek out the 'back' story which would lend his 'tales' some air of authenticity. The description of 'Cat' Coore at Kings House is a case in point - knowing that Coore's father, for example, was a well-known political colleague of the then Governer General, Sir Howard Cooke, would explain his familiar behaviour with the aide de camp, and make it appear not so much mockery or disrespect as is implied, so much as being at ease in a familiar environment. 'Cat' was there, no doubt, to see his Uncle Howard. Such overwhelming gaps in the research, and Thompson's willingness to dismiss a Caribbean cultural icon such as the late Professor Rex Nettleford in two short paragraphs and with the gossipy epithet 'Sexy Rexy' are a cause for concern. The historical material and Thompson's encyclopedic knowledge of Jamaican music somehow don't fully contextualize but rather trivialize the contemporary encounters related in the book. Sadly, I felt that throughout, this book was not so much about 'modern Jamaica' but more about Thompson's own disappointment at being British in an age of post-colonial decline. His cynicism is palpable. I was reminded of the time I took a Jamaican theatre company to the UK in the early 1990's. On previous trips to the USA we had sung the US National anthem followed by the Jamaican anthem with mutual respect. In the UK nobody stood for 'God Save the Queen', which was accompanied by bouts of embarrassed laughter, before the audience finally joined in a mocking pub-like singalong of the Jamaican anthem. We never tried it again.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting potpourri of reportage and analysis on Jamaica, 10 July 2009
By 
Gaurav Sharma (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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The island of Jamaica - its colonial connections with Britain, economy, touristy charms, crime and way of life have always fascinated outsiders. That is why it has been the subject of many written works beyond its shores. This attempt by author Ian Thomson maybe one among many, but its a highly relevant one.

He begins by recollecting an encounter in Jamaica where he's asked if another book on Jamaica obsessing about either its golden beaches or guns was really needed. It is perhaps why Thomson has skipped a cliché-ridden work in his own attempt to report and analyse the sunny isle. His reportage and analysis is often a bit mixed-up but this should not be held against him given the difficulty, sensitivity of the subject and enormity of the task.

Thomson bases his research on stories, suggestions and personal interactions with myriad informants, acquaintances and contacts on the Island. He offers a pragmatic outside-in glimpse into life and attitudes of the Caribbean nation. No subject is taboo for the author. The uncomfortable truth about slavery, immigration to Britain from Jamaica in the 50s and 60s, differing attitudes of generations to Jamaica's past and present and its often uncomfortable relationship with Britain are all there.

Critically speaking with such a broad-based subject as an entire nation's peoples, some stories are bound to be more interesting than others. However, I feel the book is heavily weighted towards accounts provided by the Island's older generation. It would perhaps have more engaging if the author could have interacted with more younger and middle-aged people than appears to be the case.

That said, this book spread over twenty-six chapters is not an armchair narrative penned from the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel room. For purposes of research Thomson visited Jamaica several times not restricting his travels to Kingston alone, but to downtrodden rundown parts of the Island as well. It is these areas which are never mentioned on travel guides or pictured on post-cards where crime is rife and drugs and murder are the norm.

If you have Jamaican connections some parts of the book may well be uncomfortable. However, if you plan on visiting or doing business in the Island of Jamaica, it would be well worth your while to read this book. For those looking for a general read on Jamaica, I am happy to recommend it as I find it to be among the better and honest ones on Jamaica.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jamaica, 19 May 2009
By 
D. Evans "dantheman95" (Southport) - See all my reviews
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For those who may have only read about Jamaica in the James Bond spy thrillers by Ian Fleming, The Dead Yard: Tales of Jamaica offers a more realistic insight into life on the Carribean Island. Thomson details the most famous aspects of Jamaica, the music and its culture, as well as the Island's history, including the slave trade operated by Britain. He visits Kingston, as well as some of the more rundown parts of the Island where murder is commonplace and the authorities have lost control. In the 50s and 60s many Jamaican people began to immigrate to the UK hoping for a better life. In some instances Thomsons states that they did not achieve this aim and they actually later returned to the Island. Several interviews are conducted with residents who left and then returned. Sometimes this does become a little repetative with Thomson going over the same ground. It is also a shame that he was not able to interview more younger people to get their perspective on Jamaican life. The cover states that this book replaces the need for a travel guide, if you plan to visit the Island. I would not say this is the case, but it does make a good tag line.An interesting read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real taste of Jamaica, 24 Feb 2011
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I zapped through these true stories at quite a pace. Sometimes entertaining but more often unsettling, they offer a diverse look at the island many of us only know through holiday commercials. The island's history was unknown to me and I found it a thought provoking read. I found the writing style engaging and comparatively 'light' and, although it wasn't always an easy book to read, it kept me turning pages till the small hours.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The expert and the ex-pat, 16 Sep 2009
By 
randolfff (London) - See all my reviews
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Several friends had recommended Bonjour Blanc, Ian Thomson's earlier work on Haiti. I was amply excited to receive this book. It didn't disappoint.

There are very full and articulate reviews on this page already - so I won't add another long write-up.

All I'll say is this: Thomson's episodic essays provided a wonderful patchwork of Jamaica. But if I were to make one criticism (and I could only make one), it is that he hopped between the UK and Jamaica a little too often.

I understand his reasoning. He does a very fine job in unravelling the nature of Jamaica's colonial past. Although when he talked about Jamaica's global present, and its American diaspora, I always wished he'd written more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Diary and anecdotes, 28 July 2009
By 
R. Lawson "clavedoc" (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book is billed as something to allow depth of understanding of modern Jamaica. One gets the impression from this that there is going to be analysis and explanation. In fact this never really seems to come to fruition. The book instead is an impressionistic collage, made up of anecdotes relating to a prolonged visit to Jamaica. These are mostly personal anecdotes describing those the author meets during and before his travels. I say 'during and before' in an apparently inverted sort of fashion deliberately, as the anecdotes do indeed jump around in time and place; from events on the author's visit to interviews in London before leaving, with historical anecdote and background for good measure. Sometimes a thread may connect these anecdotes but often they don't; there is instead an abrupt transition from one place and time to another.
The anecdotes themselves are stylishly and engagingly told. The descriptions of people are hugely evocative and capture well individual quirks, with what one instinctively feels is an accurate reflection of character. This makes the book interesting and readable, but in the end there was precious little of the analysis I had expected. There was plenty of anecdote to confirm that Jamaica is a violent and often lawless place, that there was nostalgia for the time of the British, that there was a sense of an opportunity missed following independence. Sadly, I felt there was little real inquiry as to why things had worked out thus, or perhaps more importantly of how things might be improved. Perhaps these events are inexplicable and there's no clear fix, and perhaps that's the point; but despite the excellence of the description, the interest of the characters, and the variet of the anecdotes I felt that there was something missing.
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The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica
The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica by Ian Thomson (Paperback - 4 Feb 2010)
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