Here Comes the Sun, the stunning debut novel by Jamaican author Nicole Dennis-Benn, offers readers a different view of the island paradise.
The book follows a mother working as a prostitute to make ends meet for her two daughters in a town strongly dependent on tourists. Many issues are brought to the surface: sexism, colorism, abuse and homosexuality, among others. It’s a fictional story, but boldly real.
As such a tourist nation, Jamaica creates a culture of keeping up appearances. “No problem, mon” is the slogan at any resort. Criticism and open discussions are seen as a threat to the economy. Couple that with a tradition of conservative Christian ideals, and many issues that could be resolved remain suppressed. Dennis-Benn fearlessly shines the spotlight on what most Jamaicans know but rarely protest out in the open.
“When we dare to step out of that monolithic box, it will allow us to grow as a nation where we can actually have good, constructive criticism as opposed to everyone being silent or afraid to express what’s really happening in the country,” Dennis-Benn says.
Here Comes the Sun was heralded as one of the top books of 2016 by the New York Times, NPR, Vice, Kirkus Reviews, The Root and other publications. The book is very successful globally, but Dennis-Benn feels that some African Americans, in particular, may feel that they won’t relate to the story.
“I didn’t really see a lot of African-American interviewers or major black publications, besides The Root, covering the book. It might be perceived as a Jamaican book and easily dismissed, but when they begin to see that the themes are similar, that’s when they begin to open up.”
Much of the dialogue is written in patois, an unofficial language, but the natural tongue in which most people speak to one another in Jamaica:
“Can’t wait to leave dis godforsaken place,” says Margot, the book’s central character, as she rides to work one morning.
“Is it dat bad?” the taxi driver asks. “We live by di sea.”
“This is no paradise,” she replies. “At least, not for us.”
Says Dennis-Benn: “Reading authors like Junot Diaz, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison inspired me to write in my native dialect. At the same time, I want to write stories that I’ve never read. I want people to hear the uniqueness in my voice as opposed to thinking, ‘Oh, just another MFA [Master of Fine Arts] graduate.’”