The Dead Yard, Ian Thomson’s book about the gritty underbelly of Jamaica, hailed for its candid portrait of a ‘corrupted Eden’
Ian Thomson’s investigation into the gritty underside of “corrupted Eden” Jamaica has won him the Ondaatje prize, which goes to the book which has best evoked the spirit of a place.
Thomson’s The Dead Yard sees the author walking the streets of Jamaica, describing its poverty, gang rule and police brutality, meeting its people and exploring how the country has changed since its independence in 1962. “‘You visitors are always getting it wrong,'” he is told by one Jamaican. “‘Either it’s golden beaches or guns, guns, guns, guns. Is there nothing in between?'”
Beating shortlisted titles including Guardian journalist Madeleine Bunting’s “biography of an English acre” The Plot, Kachi A Ozumba’s novel of contemporary Nigeria The Shadow of a Smile and Daniyal Mueenuddin’s short story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, The Dead Yard “will be a revelation” for those “to whom Jamaica means only music, sunshine and cricket”, said judges Kathleen Jamie, Steve Jones and Penelope Lively in a statement.
“His candid portrait – vigorous, illuminating and sometimes shocking – allows Jamaica to speak for itself,” they said. “Thomson is a brave writer who takes himself into unexpected, sometimes edgy places. The island he describes is a place of verdant beauty; history-ridden, post-colonial with an undertow of disappointment and violence. This is the best kind of travel writing: stimulating, educative and evocative.”
Thomson, who has also written a book about Haiti, Bonjour Blanc, and whose Primo Levi biography won him the WH Heinemann award seven years ago, was announced winner of the £10,000 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prize last night. He joins a roster of previous winners which includes Adam Nicolson, Graham Robb and Hisham Matar.