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Paperback A High Wind in Jamaica Book

ISBN: 0940322153

ISBN13: 9780940322158

A High Wind in Jamaica

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Book Overview

Richard Hughes's celebrated short novel is a masterpiece of concentrated narrative. Its dreamlike action begins among the decayed plantation houses and overwhelming natural abundance of late nineteenth-century Jamaica, before moving out onto the high seas, as Hughes tells the story of a group of children thrown upon the mercy of a crew of down-at-the-heel pirates. A tale of seduction and betrayal, of accommodation and manipulation, of weird humor...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Luminously True Classic of Childhood

Everyone on earth ought to read this book, even if we have to translate it into Malagasy and Mordvinian. It is supremely excellent for several reasons. It portrays children, their thoughts, their world with its textures, imaginings and fears, in a way so accurate, honest and vivid that you notice at once that almost all other fictional treatments of children are nonsense by comparison. It shows us everything else from the same child's-eye viewpoint, bringing unequalled freshness and strangeness, but also displaying the adult world in exactly the way children see it: as baffling and inexplicably absurd. Lastly, it tells an "exciting tale" of storms and pirates and kidnappings in the Caribbean in a way no-one had ever thought of before: opening unfathomable depths simply by describing things as they are, not as they're supposed to be. A typical touch comes at the beginning, when a hurricane flattens the house of a slave-owning English couple on a sugar-plantation. They then send their children away, worried the poor little things have been traumatised for life. Yet the children were in fact far less disturbed than their parents, enjoying the unexpected change in routine and too young to understand that a hurricane is dangerous and you're supposed to be frightened. This is the rare book that is short, gripping and unassuming, yet teaches you more than many large literary novels. The only comparable writing about children I know of is in Jules Supervielle's novel "Le Voleur des Enfants", translated as "The Colonel's Children". Read it if you can find a copy. Sadly Hughes' wrote little else. A storm-at-sea book, "In Hazard" is slighter than "A High Wind" but has the same freshness and strangeness; a collection of children's stories, "The Spider's Palace" is a must; and two volumes of an unfinished trilogy, "The Fox in the Attic" and "The Wooden Shepherdess", are well worth reading but disappointing by comparison.

Riding The Torrent

Richard Hughes's 1929 odyssey, A High Wind In Jamaica -- which has been included in the Modern Library's List of "The 100 best English-language novels of the century"--forces the reader to revisit that moment when children lose their innocence to the world; that diaphanous transference from childhood to adulthood that can be so heartbreakingly revelatory. In this tale, it rides in on a torrent of bad weather seemingly induced by an earthquake. Emily Bas-Thornton has just turned ten in Jamaica and has had a wonderful birthday exploring the island, meeting a group of indigenous people and receiving their good faith gifts. But just a few days later, Margaret Fernandez, a neighbor, a bit older then Emily, announces that she can smell an earthquake. Thus the trouble is ushered in as the children cartwheel across the rumbling ground, and their pet, a feral cat, is pursued by predators through the Bas-Thornton house and into the jungle where its otherworldly yowls punctuate the night. Soon afterward the Bas-Thornton's decide to ship their five children back to England. From this point in the novel, things go terribly wrong as the young troupe is mistakenly kidnapped by a hapless band of Caribbean pirates. Hughes's quirky writing style enhances the dream-like quality of the narrative: seemingly important characters die without the bat of an eyelash, good seems bad, and right seems wrong from the vertiginous heights of the reader's crow's nest. From the primitive wilderness of the Caribbean Islands to the hyper-civilized atmosphere of an English Central Criminal Courtroom, the novel follows a logical if allegorical arc; but does Hughes mean to describe this arc as progressive or regressive? A High Wind in Jamaica is one of those books that lulls the reader into a long and languorous torpor. Then it shakes you, slaps you and says "snap out of it".

Paradise Lost

There's a peculiarly boring film version of this, made in the 1960s, which is interesting only because it features the English novelist Martin Amis, then a fetching blond teenager, in a supporting role. Good books often make bad films, and this is a very good book indeed. Richard Hughes had never been to Jamaica when he wrote this remarkably vivid story about a colonial family in the nineteenth century. Jamaica, as Hughes describes it, is a wild and lush paradise for the Bas-Thornton children - but a paradise from which they are soon to be expelled. After a hurricane devastates the island, their parents decide that the five children (Martin's one of them, in the movie) must be sent back to England. But they have not got far before their ship is attacked by pirates, and the children are kidnapped. The ordeal which follows is a dramatic and unexpected one - for the children, led by the tomboyish Emily, are more than a match for the brutal Captain Jonsen and his crew. Not a children's book as such, but a novel about childhood, this powerful adventure story has been compared to William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954). The vivid, laconic style is a considerable achievement - and the ending, especially the last sentence, is one of the wonders of literature.

One of the greatest novels I've ever read

On its surface, Hughes' High Wind in Jamaica is the story of two families of young cchildren, sent home to England by their parents following a cataclysmic hurricane that levels their plantation in Jamaica. Subsequently the children are kidnapped by pirates; the book follows their story until their eventual return to England. The pirates turn out to be, for the most part, well-intended and even protective of the children, but by the end of the story the same cannot really be said of the children themselves, whose behavior at points seems threatening and malevolent by comparison to their captors.Others have made a comparison between this book and "Lord of the Flies," both because of their stories of children torn apart from the moorings of civilization, and for their undercurrent emotion of malevolence, darkness, and evil. To my mind, Hughes' intent is broader than that, and I actually prefer "High Wind" to its rival. Hughes is also exploring a more general theme of alienation and the kind of moral emptiness that accompanies it: child vs. adult, plantation owners vs. slaves, the wild of Jamaica vs. the civilized form of the British Empire, each unknowing and thus cruel to the other.The ending is actually shocking, a perfect end to this highly unconventional but perfectly-pitched book. One of my "best ever" novels.

A picaresque novel for child psychologists

Richard Hughes's "A High Wind in Jamaica" is a subtle dark comedy that explores the contrast between how adults and children perceive their surroundings and the psychology of child-adult relations. Written in a loose, informal style, it is a fast, fun, yet compelling read.The Bas-Thorntons are an English family living on an estate in Jamaica some time in the late 19th Century. They have five children ranging in age from about twelve to three. When their house is demolished in a hurricane, the parents decide to send the kids back to England to spare them from future potential danger and emotional trauma.The kids sail back to England on a small ship called the Clorinda, accompanied by two friends whose parents also are staying in Jamaica. Soon the Clorinda is overtaken by a schooner bearing pirates, who rob it of its cargo and kidnap the children. It is not the pirates' intention to detain the children for long, but the captain of the Clorinda, believing that the pirates have murdered the kids, escapes the encounter and notifies the Bas-Thornton parents of the unfortunate incident.The pirates, as the children soon discover, are not very menacing and not very competent in the moribund business of piracy. They stop at a coastal village in Cuba and try to auction off all the cargo from the Clorinda but meet with indifference from the villagers. Failing to slough the kids off on the village's Chief Magistrate, the pirates resume cruising around the Caribbean with a cargo of unwanted brats. As the kids eventually adopt the schooner as their new playground, the pirates' captain begins to take on a role akin to a hapless school bus driver, a fortuitous babysitter and awkward disciplinarian. Meanwhile, the kids fantasize about becoming pirates themselves and taking over the ship someday.Two important events in the story involve the deaths of two characters, one by accident and the other by murder. Neither is directly the pirates' fault, but they must stand trial for the crimes when they are betrayed by the children after their "rescue." From reading this plot summary, you can tell that this book is bursting at the seams with irony. As other reviewers have pointed out, it could be compared to William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" (which it predates) and O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" (which it doesn't), but it avoids the serious sociopolitical implications of the former and the shallow slapstick of the latter, ultimately finding an original niche somewhere between the two.
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