THE PLOT: How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs is a short story collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. The stories typically focus on one person who relates their love for another. From marriage to friendships, parents and siblings, it shows love in all its forms. There are some common themes, such as dealing with infidelity and the breakdown of the family unit, as well as stories about lesbian romances and colourism. Yet each story is unique, beautiful, insightful, and quintessentially Jamaican.
RATING: Something about this collection grabbed my heart so I have to give it five stars. From the moment I opened the book and saw the title of the first story – Light Skinned Girls & Kelly Rowlands – I knew this was something special. The scope and variety of stories is remarkable, from college students in NYC, to a popstar returning home, to a forty-year-old PHD student in Iowa, to a man in his sixties with a secret double life. Yet the themes and commonalities keep you engaged all the way through. I just hope other people have the chance to connect with this collection as much as I did.
GOOD BITS: The writing is clear and prioritises plot, while being lyrical with some witty observations and universal truths that made me feel like I understood the characters intimately.
It’s so hard to choose, but I think my favourite stories were…
- Light Skinned Girls & Kelly Rowlands: A black girl from NYC makes friends with an “oreo” from California.
- Mash-Up Love: A middle-aged man can’t let go of the relationship with his twin.
- Bad Behaviour: A teenage girl is sent from the U.S. to live with her grandmother in Jamaica.
- Island: A woman in her twenties has a lesbian romance when she visits a Jamaican resort for a wedding.
- The Ghost of Jia Yi: A college student is disturbed by the death of an international student
- On Shelf: An educated 40yo woman dates a man from back home.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I really enjoyed the story ‘How to Love A Jamaican’ but it was slow to start. Also, I guess I didn’t like the name of ‘Huzzah the Rapper’ in the story titled ‘Shirley from a Small Place’ … So… not much to dislike really!
OVERALL: If you enjoyed The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, you’ll love this book. In fact, these authors are mentioned in the acknowledgements so I think they all know each other. But I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to see a mother shelling peas on the front porch, surrounded by a warm breeze and the turquoise sea.