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The Book of JamaicaReview - The Book of Jamaica
by Russell Banks
HarperCollins, 1980
Review by Lawrence Hauser, Ph.D.
Feb 9th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 6)

  This is an early novel by a now terrifically accomplished and well-known author. The plot revolves around a vacation to the seductive island of Jamaica by an American college professor and his wife. They rent a home with patio and swimming pool on the outskirts of Port Antonio. Servants come on each day to cook and clean. The couple is protected from the turbulence of the island's cultural and political life by a fence made of both wire and social class (not to mention race). But the professor, the narrator of this tale, soon finds himself enjoying the company of the locals; in particular a young Rastafarian who has plenty of powerful Jamaican ganja he is willing to share. Sure enough, before too much time has elapsed, the professor is smoking all the day long and providing transportation in his rental car to a small group of Marroons and Rastas who stay in Port Antonio for short periods of time but live up in the mountains with their families.

  There are several trips back to the island after the narrator's life is completely transformed by his experiences during the first. His wife no longer accompanies him however as their marriage was one of the first casualities of his abrupt new fascination with Rastfarianism, Marroon culture, and ganja. You can imagine! But what starts out as an adventure full of promise, unfortunately follows an inevitable course ending in sorrow and not a little horror. Any attempt to blithely transcend differences of race and class are doomed, the author seems to be saying. And ganja will not of its own power make a story turn out all right, regardless of it's enormous capacity to create an internal state that seems to be mystically protected from all outward harm. In fact the opposite may be true. Ganja may release traits and fuel decisions that create a trend which rushes towards confrontation with dis-associated, unwanted self-aspects and a pressing need to re-assess one's relationship with the basics of self-preservation and the will to continue living.

  This is a compelling, well-written novel that has the advantage of having marijuana as one of its central characters. The role marijuana plays in the story and in fueling the psychological development of the protaganist is handled skillfully and raises interesting questions about what effect heavy use may have on the trajectory of one's life. As a Jamaican travelogue, the book will spellbind as it is really a tour de force of gritty observational writing. Banks obviously harbours a deep love for Jamaica and a well-earned respect for the raw power of Jah Rastafari as expereinced through the taking of his sacremental offering; the holy herb ganja.

 Reviewer Lawrence Hauser describes himself as follows:

I am a clinical psychologist not currently in practise. I have spent the last eight years pursuing research in the psychology of financial markets and trading. Before that I worked as a psychotherapist with special interest in the British School of psychoanalysis. I trained in London for two years in the early ninties and worked on the adolescent unit of The Tavistock Clinic as a clinical associate.

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