Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Very Little Sunshine in "Here Comes the Sun"

Product Details
 
When debut author Nicole Dennis-Benn spoke to librarians last month in Chicago about her devastatingly sad first novel "Here Comes the Sun," she broke down in tears and had difficulty continuing. Now I understand why. Imagine if you can, having to leave your homeland and move to a new country, not just for financial stability but for emotional stability as well, just so that you can live your life authentically. 
 
Born and raised in Jamaica, Ms. Dennis-Benn (http://www.nicoledennisbenn.com/) came to the United States where she earned a Cornell degree and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence. She is now proud to call Brooklyn her home. But if she saw, lived through, or knew people who had even half of the tragedies that she writes of, then that is too many. Fair warning, this novel is Shakespearian in its examination of human folly.
 
In this case, it's the sins of the mothers that are visited upon their daughters. In fact, male characters are unimportant to the crux of this novel which is more an examination of motherhood, unexpected and unwanted. It's a novel about women searching for love, a true connection, not a fleeting romp. It's about a mother, caring for her own mother, and for a daughter, through long, tedious days of catering to tourists, selling cheap trinkets to Americans who get off a luxury liner for a few hours and think they are buying a piece of Jamaica.
 
This is a novel about a woman who resents her daughter's beauty and innocence and is willing to despoil her own child for six hundred U.S. dollars. It's about that daughter, Margot, who uses what she's learned to take advantage of other innocents as a means of saving her younger sister, Thandi, for what she hopes and believes will be a better life. And it's about Thandi, a lovely, bright young woman who has the burden of those three unhappy generations weighing heavily on her shoulders. Her confusion and quandaries will break your heart.
 
In a parochial school where her class and color insure friendlessness, Thandi excels in science and math knowing that her family expects her to become a doctor. But Thandi harbors dreams of art school and only feels good about herself when she's with a street boy named Charles. When he discovers that she's been stealing money from her sister to have painful skin treatments that will make her lighter (more acceptable to her white schoolmates), he pleads with her in a deeply poignant scene to recognize that she's beautiful just the way she is. Dennis-Benn says of the moment, "No one has ever called her beautiful. It is like a sheer, billowing curtain that rests like a fainting damsel on the back of an armchair...serene, graceful, elegant."
 
There are no debut flaws in this tragic novel. Dennis-Benn's writing is pure and elegant. She writes delicately and realistically about the island's homophobia and the courage displayed by Verdene, a woman who returned to Jamaica after her mother's death even though she had been spurned by the townspeople years earlier for an indiscreet lesbian relationship. And the author tackles head on the rape of the island by big corporations that come in and offer the native people paltry sums, if any, for their valuable property. Where Jamaicans once fed and housed themselves on fishing, they now bow and scrape to wealthy tourists, offering glorious, white, welcoming smiles, that never reach their eyes.
 
I firmly believe that if we are to ever understand other cultures and people that we must walk a mile in their shoes. Of course, that's not always possible. But great literature serves as a means to that noble end. If we keep reading, we keep learning. Won't you join me? I have a copy of the book for the first person who asks.
 
 


6 comments:

Sue Johnson said...

Sally, I know I,m probably not eligible for another book so soon, but I just want to tell you that this sounds really interesting and I'll put it on"reserve" at the library.

You've had a lot of good suggestions lately. "The Summer Before the War " sounds good too.

Thanks for all your ideas!


Sallyb said...

Hi Sue, Thanks so much for commenting. Did you get your copy of "The Nix?" Oh, I loved Summer before the War - need to temper my sad books with happy ones. Also just finished Vinegar Girl which you'll get a kick out of.

Paul Woodside said...

I'll take it, please!
Maryellen

Sallyb said...

Coming at ya. The post office here must wonder if I'm running a business. Always sending book rate and they can't make any money on me.

Paul Woodside said...

Oh, too funny! The Girls is on it's way to you...went out today.
ME

Sue Johnson said...

Sally, I posted a comment on your blog under "The Nix" when the book arrived, about a week ago. Am halfway through it and loving it. Didn't you see my comment? Anyway, again, thanks so much.