Book Review: The Dead Yard

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If you have only been to its all-inclusive resorts, you have not been to Jamaica. That is to say you have experienced as much of Jamaica’s history, people and culture as you would Florida by seeing only Disney World.

Ian Thomson’s The Dead Yard takes us outside the gates of Sandals, Round Hill and Secrets St. James to where few outsiders—meaning white tourists and native middle class—venture these days. He introduces you to a populace left behind. Locked out. The Jamaica never included in glossy travel brochures. The Jamaica where outsiders aren’t welcome to judge what they see. Only real Jamaicans can. Only they have earned the right. The honor deserved through suffering and sorrow.

The author of The Dead Yard was lucky. He got to places and people many wouldn’t. He was tested, approved and accepted, then given the beautiful violent truth of modern Jamaica: That while hope has been all but lost, many still desire to make a difference.

No. The Dead Yard explains that you cannot get to Jamaica without wading into its past: the conquered and enslaved, the subverted, corrupted and impoverished.

It’s a long slog. You’ll feel self-conscious, guilty, even though you’re certain none in your familial line did anything wrong to this island. It doesn’t matter. You’ll think about turning around, heading back to the gate, back to the umbrella drinks.

But, for some unknown reason deep within yourself, you won’t.

You’ll press on until, very close to the end, you brighten, having learned that Errol Flynn’s old place still stands there.

Albeit threadbare, its evidence of the Jamaica you always imagined, the one before this trip, the Colonial one, where people like you would be welcomed by people like you.

—Author Tim Bryant