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The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica


Named the Dolman Travel Book of the Year, The Dead Yard paints an unforgettable portrait of modern Jamaica. Since independence, Jamaica has gradually become associated with twin images—a resort-style travel Eden for foreigners and a new kind of hell for Jamaicans, a society where gangs control the areas where most Jamaicans live and drug lords like Christopher Coke rule elites and the poor alike.

Ian Thomson's brave book explores a country of lost promise, where America's hunger...

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The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica

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Named the Dolman Travel Book of the Year, The Dead Yard paints an unforgettable portrait of modern Jamaica. Since independence, Jamaica has gradually become associated with twin images—a resort-style travel Eden for foreigners and a new kind of hell for Jamaicans, a society where gangs control the areas where most Jamaicans live and drug lords like Christopher Coke rule elites and the poor alike.

Ian Thomson's brave book explores a country of lost promise, where America's hunger for drugs fuels a dependent economy and shadowy politics. The lauded birthplace of reggae and Bob Marley, Jamaica is now sunk in corruption and hopelessness. A synthesis of vital history and unflinching reportage, The Dead Yard is "a fascinating account of a beautiful, treacherous country" (Irish Times).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Thomson (Bonjour Blanc) offers a portrait of contemporary Jamaica beyond the clichés of "golden beaches and guns, guns, guns." Thomson spoke to Jamaicans from all strata of society: white Jamaicans, beneficiaries of fortunes built on slave labor, now hiding in their crumbling plantation mansions, terrified of the encroaching violence; Rastafarians and Maroons; rabbis and priests; tired bureaucrats and armed youths; Indian and Chinese shopkeepers; the musicians and producers that have exported Jamaican music all over the globe. At times the book is overcrowded with characters and lacks a cohesive argument, but the elegant capsule histories of major figures and events ground the interviews in context. What emerges is a portrait of a country haunted by its colonial past, still trying to define itself apart from the two imperial powers (U.S. and British) that have shaped it thus far, and of a diverse people who struggle to hold on to their hope for a brighter future. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In this excellent book, Thomson (Primo Levi: A Life) reveals the complexities of modern Jamaican life as lived by Jamaicans—poverty-stricken and violent, multicultural and rich with tradition. A fine ear for language and a journalist's nose for a good story make Thomson the perfect guide through island life, but his book is far more than a travelog. He delves into Jamaican history, politics, culture, religion, music, food, and economy, deftly weaving these macro-level issues with the lives of ordinary Jamaicans—white, black, multiracial, Chinese, and East Indian. He talks with white Jamaicans on the island, black Jamaicans in Britain, and everyone in between. Ultimately, the story is of a country still struggling with the legacies of colonialism and of a people deeply attached to their home but conflicted about where they belong in Jamaica and where Jamaica belongs in the world. VERDICT Thomson's obvious love for Jamaica makes the book that much more engaging, and he is a skilled enough writer that his affection never clouds his prose or tips it toward sentimentalism. A remarkable book that many readers of narrative nonfiction will appreciate. Highly recommended also to students of Caribbean studies.—Julie Biando Edwards, Univ. of Montana Lib., Missoula
Joshua Hammer
…[Thomson] paints a nuanced portrait of a country brimming with both creative and murderous impulses.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568586564
  • Publisher: Nation Books
  • Publication date: 3/29/2011
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 682,466
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet 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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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 3, 2012

    all Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora should read this book......

    i had arrived from Jamaica in the us in November 2011, when my daughter requested that i get the book for her from the library. after she read it,i resigned myself to read it also. this book in some ways exposes the strength(its people) and its weaknesses(their attitudes)of Jamaica, and also tells us how we are viewed by certain types of people, especially non-Jamaicans.the fact that the book was written probably between 2009 and 2010, based on the information of several "high class" Jamaicans who has formed most of their opinions on hear says and not real facts,gives the book a sense of falsity and misconceptions,as there are numerous none-facts in the book, especially in his description of present day locations,which he had personally visited. for instance Down Town Kingston,Spanish Town, Ocho Rios,etc;you would think this was in the 1900's. the author goes to great pains to portray the island and its people in a negative light, a sinister backward place.i give this book a one because it lets us see in the heads and hearths of some of the so-called Jamaicans referred to as "SOURCES"
    us Jamaicans must use the information,correctly misinformation,to examine ourselves and the message that we send to the world, and stop being sorry for our past.they say that the word Jamaican has no "we" in it, but fail to see the "I CAN"in it, we must not be daunted in our quest for true freedom.

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  • Posted August 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Jamaica inside and out

    I picked up this book out of curiosity of my fiance's Jamaican heritage. He was born and raised in Jamaica, then moved with his mother to the U.S. at a young age. Leaving behind family on the island and joining family in the U.S., always between two countries. I enjoyed learning the history of Jamaica and the various characters Thomson runs into on the island. Rastafarians, Jewish Jamaicans, Chinese Jamaicans, Indian Jamaicans (some very racist ones in the book), and white Jamaicans of not only English, but Scottish and German decent. It was also disturbing to learn that the island's tourism, its main money maker also includes sex tourism and is only lightly touched on by Thomson. It was also disturbing to know that politicians and drug dealers are in each others pockets vying to keep each other in power. There were numerous sad and hopeful stories put into the book by Thomson, but I don't know if he was able to capture everything about Jamaica with only a few trips rather than being a native or living on the island for a number of years. Thomson obviously tries to make up that lack of perspective by interviewing Jamaicans aboard in Britain and those who have lived on the island for generations. Not a serious James Bond fan, so it was interesting to learn that the entire series was written in Jamaica. The author does tend to focus more on Jamaica's history with Britain, rather than focusing more on the island itself. There is always some kind of reference back to Britain, which can be understood but seems to be a distraction to what Jamaica is now without its former colonizer. I did find it a little annoying that the author assumes everything wrong in Jamaica's relationship with the U.S. is due to negative influences of America's cultural globalization. I found it even more annoying that Thomson, didn't seem to realize that the "rap culture" he blames for Jamaica's focus on bling, guns, and sex actually originated on the island and was brought to the U.S. by Jamaican immigrants and their children, such as Notorious B.I.G and Grandmaster Flash (not Jamaican, but a West Indian from Barbados). That the culture has its roots from all over the Carribean and the Southern parts of the U.S. Other than that I would say this is a great book to get a general idea of Jamaica's history and a look at its present state from Jamaicans.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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