Right before diving into my summer school classes, I had a chance to finish one last book during my leisure: The True History of Paradise: A Novel by Margaret Cezair-Thompson. This probably would have been a nice book to bring on the cruise I went on, if it had been quiet enough anywhere to actually read, but I’m so glad I managed to squeeze it in before my “fun” reading slows down considerably.
The book is definitely a work of fiction but is mixed with doses of Jamaican history, ranging from the early Arawak settlers to the government upheaval in the 1980s. Because of all the violence going on around, some of which she has personally had inflicted on her, the main character, Jean Landing, is leaving her beloved home, Jamaica. As she takes the long drive to meet the airplane, which is probably going to be piloted by drug runners, she weaves her story and those of her ancestors, a mix of Asian, Spanish, Indian, African, German, and Scottish decent.
Other than the fact that this is just a plain old good story, I was most impressed with Cezair-Thompson’s mix of point of view and verb tense. As Jean leaves, the story is told in present tense and the narrator is limited omniscient; we get inside of Jean’s head for the most part. Then as characters from history are introduced, the text changes into italics, and the story is past tense and told in first person. Then we are back to Jean and present tense, and so on, basically moving back and forth through the whole book.
To do this, let alone to do it well, is really tricky. I have read numerous books which have simply tried to use multiple narrators and point of view and just couldn’t pull it off, but this author does. I bought into these other voices, and I was fine with flipping back and forth between present and past. I will go so far as to say that it really made the story for me.
Now, this book isn’t perfect. Some of the ends of the stories the author weaves are pretty lose. Jean is leaving, so yes, we know from the beginning that the end of the book should show her leaving. We expect this. However, this doesn’t actually happen. Instead of the car she has been sitting in during the entire book, all of a sudden she’s in a taxi. It is assumed (I think) that she is still heading towards the plane, but I really wanted to see her on the plane and lifting off, and that never happened.
Other dangling story threads are also left undone. A very good friend of Jean’s is fighting for her life in the hospital. At one point, it looks like Jean will stay because of this, but she doesn’t. Again, we know this is going to happen because she’s in the car. However, what about the friend? Did she live? Did she die? I went so far as to go back and reread sections near the end because I thought I had missed something.
I still recommend this book, but I can’t help but be disappointed that the ending didn’t have the same moment and strength as the rest of the book had.