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A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

A High Wind in Jamaica (1929)

by Richard Hughes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,661516,569 (3.91)189
  1. 10
    Lord of the Flies by William Golding (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Similar in theme, different in tone.
  2. 00
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (SCPeterson)
    SCPeterson: Both are great novels revealing the darker side of childhood imagination

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» See also 189 mentions

English (49)  French (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
I was hoping this novel would be strange and intriguing: blithely cruel 19th century British children on a grand adventure, told in an imperial, self-satisfied voice - but the first 10 pages disturbed me, and not in a good way. Really, the first page did me in with this:

With Emancipation, like many others, that [plantation] went bung. The sugar buildings fell down. Bush smothered the cane and guinea-grass. The field negroes left their cottages in a body, to be somewhere less disturbed by even the possibility of work.

Maybe all of this is subverted in the rest of the tale, maybe it has clever and cynical things to say about morality that would make it all worth reading, but I just couldn't stand it. I realize it was written in 1929 and I am generally capable of suspending my 21st century sensibilities for books of another era, but not this time. I did read Francine Prose's Introduction, which gave me all that was valuable about the book without the pain of actually reading it.
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
I picked this book up thinking, despite the disclaimers of many of you, that 'A High Wind in Jamaica' might be a good companion to 'Treasure Island'. A tale of pirates and the adventures of children captives that would be entertaining to another kid. Hmm, well not so much.

Most children would be able to recognize themselves in the imaginative exploits and musings of the Bas-Thornton and Hernandez children, but there are some elements of the story that would require a mature middle schooler or high schooler's understanding.

The setting of the novel is colonial Jamaica a generation or two after the emancipation of British slaves, that and a few other references make me think the 1850s. The book, first published in 1929, has a great deal of racism in the beginning. Hughes isn't being malicious, but in portraying how imperialism-minded whites perceived blacks at the time he makes this book a difficult one to recommend to any classroom.

The racism is the big hurdle, but there's a reason 'A High Wind in Jamaica' was the first book reprinted as a New York Review Book Classic, Hughes is a brilliant writer. The worlds of the children and the adults are sharply delineated; at every situation Hughes highlights how much the adult and children misunderstand one another, usually to the adults' detriment. Hughes somehow remembered and could explicate the unconscious cruelty and single-minded nature of a child's thoughts.

The children are in tears over their lost pet, Tabby: "The death of Old Sam had no such effect: there is after all vast difference between a negro and a favorite cat." Hughes later points out how, unknown to their parents, the children had given that cat first place in their hearts, with second and third perhaps going to each other.

And the book has barely started.

Hughes puts most of the emphasis on Emily, but all 7 children are well-rounded and their different perspectives all contribute to the book. Margaret, at 13 is by a couple years the eldest so she isn't heard from as much. There are a lot of adult themes in this book and the perspective is so direct and immediate that its more unnerving then other books (or movies even) that show the terrible things that children can be capable of. But, that same close perspective makes you understand them so completely one can't judge them too harshly.

Don't get me wrong, the book is funny. A group of pirates, purposely made by Hughes (as he says in the introduction of this edition) of the later, less blood-thirsty, sort, end up with a handful of children aged 3 1/2 to 13 to take care of, who do you think is going to take the upper hand?

I have another scene, again from early on, which helped make the book -

Having come into port, Emily sees a group of "beautiful young men" "mincing" as they disembark. She turns to the Captain and asks "Who are they?" he says, distractedly:

"'Oh, those?--Fairies.'

'Hey! Yey! Yey!' cried the mate, more disapprovingly than ever.

'Fairies?' cried Emily in astonishment.

But Captain Jonsen began to blush. He went crimson from the nape of his neck to the bald patches on the top of his head, and left.

'He is silly!' said Emily."

Very silly indeed.

This book can be pretty harrowing, there are several pretty shocking scenes, but everything is filtered through a child's perspective so none of it terribly graphic; most of it is only hinted at. The deaths of a house cat or a pet monkey end up weighing a great deal more than rape and murder to young children unacquainted with the particulars. And that, compared with the general rosy innocence granted to children, is what most disturbed readers of the book when it first came out, it was a bestseller anyway.*

So, I won't be reading this to the nephew any time soon, but this is not a book that's not to be passed up if you're like me and enjoy reading young adult and children's lit. Because, that's what this is - for grown-ups! That kind of idea could go places.

*It took awhile in America because, according to, again, Hughes himself, the country was caught up in reading 'The Cradle of the Deep' and wasn't going to digest two seafaring youngster stories at once. 'The Cradle of the Deep' by actress Joan Lowell was a fictitious memoir along the lines of 'A Million Little Pieces'. In 1929 the offended body was The Book-of-the-Month Club, not Oprah, but you get the idea. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
A very odd book. I borrowed it after a mention in the film of "The Bookshop" where it is described (if I remember correctly) as "a book about good pirates and bad children". That seems to sum it up rather well but it's more than that, it's about who we are and how that affects those around us and how easy it is to destroy people. It's also about what used to be called original sin, and the antithesis of the Victorian sentimentality about the innocence of childhood. Maybe it's also about the end of colonialism and how the underlying violence of the colonised springs through the veneer of civilization. I don't know. There's lots of casual racism, cruelty to animals, drunkenness and self delusion too. Yet it's written in the gentle tone of a children's book. A very odd classic... ( )
  Figgles | Oct 26, 2018 |
A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes ( )
  valentinbru | Oct 2, 2018 |
After a terrible hurricane levels their Jamaican estate, the Bas-Thorntons decide to send their children back to the safety and comfort of England. On the way their ship is set upon by pirates, and the children are accidentally transferred to the pirate vessel. Jonsen, the well-meaning pirate captain, doesn't know how to dispose of his new cargo, while the children adjust with surprising ease to their new life. As this strange company drifts around the Caribbean, events turn more frightening and the pirates find themselves increasingly incriminated by the children's fates. The most shocking betrayal, however, will take place only after the return to civilization. The swift, almost hallucinatory action of Hughes's novel, together with its provocative insight into the psychology of children, made it a best seller when it was first published in 1929 and has since established it as a classic of twentieth-century literature - an unequaled exploration of the nature, and limits, of innocence.
1 vote Cultural_Attache | Jul 21, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (48 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Hughesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Darger, HenryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karascz, IlonaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kuper, MaryIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lambert, SaulIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maloney, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peereboom, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prose, FrancineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Time EditorsPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Untermeyer, LouisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, LyndIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watkins, VernonForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One of the fruits of Emancipation in the West Indian islands is the number of ruins, either attached to the houses that remain or within a stone's throw of them: ruined slaves' quarters, ruined sugar-grinding houses, ruined boiling houses; often ruined mansions that were too expensive to maintain.
When Destiny knocks the first nail in the coffin of a tyrant, it is seldom long before she knocks the last.
It is the novelist who is concerned with facts, whose job it is to say what a particular man did do on a particular occasion: the lawyer does not, cannot be expected to go further than to show what the ordinary man would be most likely to do under presumed circumstances.
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Originally published in the US as The Innocent Voyage
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0940322153, Paperback)

A High Wind in Jamaica is not so much a book as a curious object, like a piece of driftwood torqued into an alarming shape from years at sea. And like driftwood, it seems not to have been made, exactly, but simply to have come into being, so perfectly is its form married to its content. The five Bas-Thornton children must leave their parents in Jamaica after a terrible hurricane blows down their family home. Accompanied by their Creole friends, the Fernandez children, they board a ship that is almost immediately set upon by pirates. The children take to corsair life coolly and matter-of-factly; just as coolly do they commit horrible deeds, and have horrible deeds visited upon them. First published in 1929, A High Wind in Jamaica has been compared to Lord of the Flies in its unflinching portrayal of innocence corrupted, but Richard Hughes is the supreme ironist William Golding never was. He possesses the ability to be one moment thoroughly inside a character's head, and the next outside of it altogether, hilariously commenting.

Irony finds a happy home indeed in the book's mixture of the macabre and the adorable. The baby girl, Rachel, "could even sum up maternal feelings for a marline-spike, and would sit up aloft rocking it in her arms and crooning. The sailors avoided walking underneath: for such an infant, if dropped from a height, will find its way through the thickest skull (an accident which sometimes befalls unpopular captains)." In that "such an infant" lies a world of mordant wit. In fact, throughout, Hughes's wildly eccentric punctuation and startling syntax make just the right verbal vehicle for this dark-hearted pirate story for grownups.

Hughes enjoys some coy riffing on the child mind, as with this description of the way Emily handles an uncomfortable social situation: "Much the best way of escaping from an embarrassing rencontre, when to walk away would be an impossible strain on the nerves, is to retire in a series of somersaults. Emily immediately started turning head over heels up the deck." Even so, Hughes never sentimentalizes his subject: "Babies of course are not human--they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes." Children, as a race, are given rough treatment: "their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact)." That madness is here isolated, prodded, and poked to chilling effect. But Hughes never loses sight of his ultimate objective: A High Wind in Jamaica is, above all, a cracking good yarn. --Claire Dederer

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Presents the story of children sent to England after a hurricane destroys their parents' Jamaican estate; after a pirate attack, the children are accidentally placed on a pirate vessel, and they adjust to life on the pirate ship.

» see all 4 descriptions

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NYRB Classics

2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 0940322153, 1590173716

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