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Andrew Salkey: The Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover
This is a novel about the lost generation of the early 60s in Jamaica, the one that grew up before Rastafarianism had become a major force and while Jamaica was still stumbling out of colonialism. Jerry Stover is a civil servant in the court system from a well-to-do family. His mother is a teacher and his brother studied music at the Juilliard. His father had taken the family to Cuba before Jerry was born and Jerry was born there. However, his mother had decided to return to Jamaica with their two sons while their father remained in Cuba. At the beginning of the novel, the father writes from Cuba that his business is failing and he plans on returning to Jamaica. During the course of the novel, things seem to improve and he remains in Cuba.
As the blurb on my copy of the book rightly states, Jerry is a rebel without a cause. He does not particularly like his job and, in particular, really does not get on with his boss, a man who has worked his way up from humble beginnings. Jerry chases women wherever he can find them, including his mother’s maid, Miriam. He hangs out with a group of people who call themselves the Termites – lower level civil servants like himself as well as journalists and others – and they seem to spend much of their time seriously drinking (Black Seal is a favourite) – as well as moving in and out of relationships and generally moaning about the limited opportunities in Jamaica. He also is involved with Nexus, a literary magazine run by Pauline Kirby. She is the wife of W C Kirby, leader of one of the political parties. The leader of the other is the anagrammatically named C W Rybik, the point being, of course, that the two parties have little difference between the them.
Things are drifting along, with Jerry increasingly discontent with his lot when a variety of things happen. He falls out with Pauline Kirby, partially out of his own bloody-mindedness and partially because he does not see the magazine as having the right ambition. Things come to a head when an American woman arrives in Kingston to set up a rival magazine. He starts a relationship with Carmen who is very much not a Termite and starts to drift away from the Termites. He is persuaded by his boss to resign, both of them feeling that he is not cut out to be a civil servant. Carmen is going to America but, just before she does, she tells him that she is pregnant. The same day he learns that Miriam is also pregnant. She promptly disappears. He will not see the two women again, at least not as far as we can tell. More particularly he takes up with the Rastafarians on Dung Hill, the low life area of Kingston.
In his new life, he works to make life better for the Rastafarians. He teaches them (many of them are illiterate). He helps make their case to the anagrammatically challenged Rybik and Kirby (both of whom do their best to ignore them). First one and then many of the Termites come and join them, though only for a bit of middle class slumming. There is some internal dissent. Most of the group are aiming for repatriation (this was presumably before Haile Selassie’s visit) while Jerry is more in favour of improving their lot in Jamaica. While the group he is with favour peace and love, another group of Rastafarians favour a more violent approach. As his mother constantly reminds him not much is achieved (though awareness is certainly increased). It all ends dramatically and tragically and we are left with Jerry still adrift but greater recognition for the Rastafarians.
First published by Hutchinson, London in 1968