Even in this heat, I’m already thinking ahead to winter vacation spots. After reading Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn, Jamaica won’t be on the list. Dennis-Benn, a debut novelist from Kingston, Jamaica, takes everything that a tourist would see and do in Jamaica, and offers it again from a local’s point of view.
Reading this novel is like turning over a laminated restaurant place mat. The flip side of that sunny tourist photo is a different and darker rendition of the same world. In Here Comes the Sun, the flip side certainly isn’t sunny smiles, swaying palms and beachside drinks.
Margot, who works the front desk at a five-star beachside resort, is all smiles to the guests. But having been overlooked for advancement, and needing to bring in extra cash to her impoverished household, Margot prostitutes herself to willing hotel guests. She’s determined to scrape together enough money so that her younger sister, Thandi, can escape this same fate.
Margot’s mother, Delores, bears long hours and stifling heat selling trinkets to cruise ship passengers. She is sweet and simpering when trying to shill her handmade goods, but at home she is a ruthless woman — one who sold her own daughter for sex with a tourist when she was barely a teenager.
From start to finish, Here Comes the Sun paints a grim picture of life for Jamaica’s working poor. In this multi-layered, moving tale, family life in this seaside shanty town goes from bad to worse. With time and circumstance, Margot becomes just as ruthless as her mother — blackmailing friends, taking on more daring propositions, and starting her own prostitution ring.
Margot has a secret she can’t reveal — she knows that being different here means getting beaten and having dead dogs thrown on your doorstep. Margot’s situation only gets worse when it turns out that she is involved with a new resort hotel that is threatening to bulldoze their seaside town. Straight back to the time of colonialism, these characters have suffered, and taken out their suffering on those around them, and on themselves.
Even Thandi, Margot’s younger sister who has an opportunity to escape poverty with her intellect, can’t break free,
She doesn’t think about a different future: what matters to her is that she is dark, and therefore, ugly. She slathers herself in toxic bleaching cream, and despite the stifling heat wraps herself daily in cling wrap plastic.
Here Come the Sun certainly takes the romance out of the crystal waters and white sand portrayed in newspaper ads. Although Dennis-Benn’s version of life on the island is unrelenting, and the possibility of a happy ending for anyone but a foreigner seems impossible, this is a book well worth the trip.