Sunday, July 17, 2016

"A High Wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes

The slim novel, written in the mid-1920's, was inspired by a real life memoir of an elderly Victorian lady whose ship was commandeered by pirates in the early part of the 19th century, when she was just a little girl, travelling without parents on a sailing ship from Jamaica back to Britain. The author "tamed" the pirates in his narrative and added more children to the plot. He based some of his child characters on the children of Robert Graves, a famous British novelist and poet.

The revolutionary idea (for 1929) was that children are not just sweet, silly little darling chimps, but sentient beings capable of the entire range of human emotions, motives and actions. (Why was there ever a question?) The novel is considered a forerunner to novels like "The Lord of the Flies" (which I refuse to read) and "The Catcher in the Rye", which I did not like very much and will not try again.

There is a terrific description of an earthquake prior to the children leaving Jamaica. Another graphic narration of the progress of a hurricane on Jamaica is good. Because of the hurricane, the kids' (silly) parents decide it will be much safer to send them off on a ship back to England to live with relatives.

The children experience the range of emotions; the main character finds herself in a terrible situation.

Books written by adults about children? Of course, first comes to mind "To Kill a Mockingbird; "A Painted House" by John Grisham was wonderful; near the end of his life, William Faulkner wrote "The Reivers". These novels felt authentic in characterizing kids. Robert Penn Warren's "Blackberry Winter", about a cold snap in summer in Tennessee is deep with images of a child's recollection of his first awareness of evil. It's chilling, without being graphic. Any of these seem more current and alive.

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