BANANA SHOUT - Reviewed by Balford Henry
Jamaica was one of the developing nations most in the global spotlight in the 1970's.
Michael Manley's demoncratic socialist policies and close relationship with Cuba's Fidel Castro, and the United States' obvious preference for Opposition Leader Edward Seaga had, hurriedly, elevated the island to centre stage in the cold war battle of the period.
The focus was then on the capital city of Kingston, where most of the political intrigue of the period was evident. But, according to writer/businessman Mark Conklin, there were equally interesting things happening in Negril on the west cost.
Mr Conklin, who owns the Banana Shout resort cottages in Negril, tells us in his notes that the work is fiction and any resemblance to facts is "entirely coincidental". But, understanding that writers usually draw on their experiences, we are forced to believe that the story of Tavo Gripps, an American college graduate who slips into Negril to dodge the Vietnam War draft, has a lot more to do with what was happening then in the tourist town that he wants us to accept.
Mr. Gripps, having lost his Jewish sweetheart, Irene, and passed fit for Vietnam, bribes an obnoxious Aussie weed smuggler, "Striker", operating between Florida's Star Island and Negril, picking Cuban stragglers along the way and sailing them to Miami, where he would be greeted as a hero by anit-Castro Cubans.
In Negril, Mr. Gripps eventually settles down, uses the money he had obtained from the sale of a house he had inherited from his parents in Michigan, United States, to buy a couple acres of prime land in the midst of the tourism boom.
Eventually, he uses his wits to get a house built on the land by charitable Jamaican workmen and starts earning from renting out the house to tourists popping up all over the town.
The book shows how far young American college grads went to avoid the war, more so out of fear for their own lives than as a matter of respect for Vietnamese sovereignty.
It tells us a lot about what was happening in Negril during the period, including the drug trade there and the kinds of people associated with it, the parties which attracted famous music stars and the informal economy financed by illegal activities.
It is interesting that Striker's illegal ganga activities link Negril and Star Island, which was exposed in the 1980s as he headquarters of the Coptic Rastafarian group who were openly involved in ganga cultivation and trading.
Mr. Gripps familiarises himself with the local people and culture, to the extent where he becomes so immersed, he refuses to return home even after President Jimmy Carter comes to office in 1976 and offers an amnesty to draft evaders.
In the epilogue, we are reminded that Mr. Manley is voted out of office "by a starving majority", followed by an aggressive compaign against weed which stopped the flow to the U.S. with the result that "grass was replaced in Jamaica by a far more profitable and dangerous commodity - cocaine."
This is another welcome addition to a growing catalogue of Jamaican books and books about Jamaica which have been appearing recently.
Mr. Conklin offers such an intriguing view of Negril in its early days of development as a tourist town, and against the epic cold war struggle of the era which went on around it, that it makes it hard to put down once you've started reading.
Mark Conklin, first owner of Banana Shout Resort has also written a novel, called Banana Shout.
The definitive story of Negrils formative years (1970-1974), using his extensive knowledge of the island, the people, their ways, and the history of the land. The novel is now available for order on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
For those of you in the publishing or dramatic businesses, it could be an exciting discussion topic.