Thursday, February 5, 2009

'I think life played a trick on both of us'

In addition to being shortest month and the month in which we revere Saint Valentine with cookie cake, February is also Black History month.

While I’m not going to dedicate an entire month to authors of African descent, I will use the opportunity to mention some favorites.

Whenever I travel — which is not often — I bring home local literature. During a mission to Jamaica, I found Paulette Ramsay’s “Aunt Jen.” (ISBN 978-435910-12-9)

Sunshine, a young Jamaican girl, wants to know more about her absentee mother. The story is a series of unanswered letters written by Sunshine to her “Aunt Jen.”

Children are almost impossible to write. Authors tend to make them too precocious or too naive, caricatures of youth. Sunshine feels like an authentic child.

Even though Sunshine is the lone “voice” in the story, Ramsay fleshes out her supporting cast — the stifled Uncle Johnny, long-suffering grandparents. Even Aunt Jen’s absence helps explain her character. (Sometimes a person is defined by what they don’t do.)

A lot of authors use the “journal” or “series of letters” conceit. (Tricia wrote about one earlier this week.) Sometimes, it hurts the story. Exposition is a chore without an omniscient narrator or dialogue as a crutch. Ramsay makes it work.

Ramsay works wonders with subtlety. While Sunshine’s feelings swing farther than Big Ben’s pendulum — she is, after all, a child — Ramsay makes the smallest detail matter with her concise storytelling. For example, when Sunshine is most vexed with her mother, she stops signing her letters “your daughter” and replaces it with a simple “Sunshine.”

Ramsay occasionally slips into Jamaican patois when it suits the story, but the version I read came with a glossary of sayings, in case you don’t know what “ban you belly” means.

I recommend this book, especially for those with an interest in Caribbean culture.

--Jason Lea,

P.S. Next time around, I’ll be talking about Eldridge Cleaver.

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Blogger Edgar said...

I read Aunt Jen a number of years ago and also found it to be a beautiful book on Caribbean culture, well written while being fascinating from page 1 to the end. It was my first Jamaican book and I was not disappointed. I look forward to hearing more about this author... is an interview coming?

February 11, 2009 at 11:05 AM 

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