Had no idea what to expect with this one and feared a swashbuckler’s tale was upon me. How wrong was I, and happily so. Several realizations came to me, almost simultaneously whilst reading A High Wind in Jamaica; the writing was superb, the story fabulous and the author had a keen insight into the minds of children.
The story begins in Jamaica where the Bas-Thornton family are living with their five children in a somewhat unconventional manner. The children roam freely, keep bats and tigers as pets and spend more time outdoors than in.
This idyllic life loses its charm when a minor earthquake occurs, followed by a severe hurricane which destroys the family home and takes the life of the family caretaker. The parents decide it is no longer a place for children and set them off to sail to England on the Clorinda with two other neighbor children.
The children are unwittingly captured by pirates and mistakenly reported as being murdered by Clorinda’s captain. Much confusion and miscommunications occur, yet the children seem unaffected and the pirates are resolved to take on the care of their unintended captors.
What really works best, apart from the wonderful story telling, are the descriptives of the inner thoughts of the various Bas-Thornton children. Rarely are children depicted in their true humanity. Hughes certainly doesn’t go for the sugar-coated version of the ideal child, but instead shows us, or rather reminds us, that children are as human, if not more so, than the adults that misread them.
By the by, there is much pirate like adventure. A drunken monkey breaks its neck, as does a young boy. A Dutch captain is murdered by a youngster and the wrong one is blamed, who subsequently becomes a pariah among the old and young. There is much insinuation of sexual goings-on, but not conveyed explicitly.
Emily, the eldest Bas-Thornton girl enjoyed her life in Jamaica, but adjusts quite easily to life at sea, even after falling in with the pirates. Ignorant at first of her situation, she soon accepts it and adapts her behavior to what she believe the pirate’s life to be. Like many a grownup, she fails to correct misunderstandings that benefit her, yet this seems to make her darker than it would were she older.
The pirate, Captain Jonsen, has his own code of ethics; no guns and no killing, stealing is fine. He was sometimes annoyed and sometimes amused with the children yet comes to realize they do not belong living among pirates. His attempts to leave the children in Santa Lucia with a wealthy woman do not succeed so he continues to find ways to get them back on their journey to England. Unfortunately, his good intentions are not rewarded.
Hughes introduces many interesting characters and is able to reveal their inner lights within a few lines. Even the animals are given near human life; Jacko the monkey and Tabby the tiger.
I’m quite sure I’d enjoy being in the company of Mr. Hughes. Discovering he worked with Robert Graves and had Dylan Thomas as a houseguest, I’m even more enraptured with this man. Where would our dialogue begin? I would surely allow this wonderful storyteller to steer the conversation.
My rating for A High Wind in Jamaica is a 9 out of 10.
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