Here Comes the Sun
Personally, I am overjoyed to have read a book written by a queer, West Indian author and can say with veracity that representation does in fact, matter – as does the rampant use of Jamaican patois in this novel. I myself have been seduced by the ways of the Western world – the bizz and buzz of an event-soaked metropolis – for as far back as I can remember. Once my immigrant parents introduced me to cable, it was all over from there. I long forgot the humdrum life of the Caribbean countryside, but Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn has brought it back tear by tear.
A powerful first publication by Dennis-Benn, this is an authentic novel and rallying cry on behalf of the ostracized people who devote their lives to catering to others in the hopes of buying their way off an island that people take out second mortgages to visit.
The main character, Margot, stops at nothing to make more money – even sleeping with the boss at her hotel (a man), despite an unconditional and hidden love for her neighbor, Verdene (a woman). This community-wide knowledge isn’t typically shared with guests upon disembarking the plane, but Dennis-Benn doesn’t hesitate to remind us how dangerous it can still be for gay people, both in and out of the closet, to live in Jamaica. At one point in Here Comes the Sun, Margot says to an old school crush and taxi driver, “Can’t wait to leave dis godforsaken place,” which is an ironically honest view compared to the blissfully unaware faces she checks into the hotel every day at work.
In an attempt to console her, the taxi friend responds, “Is it dat bad? We live by di sea.” Margot quickly shuts down his comment, saying “This is no paradise. At least not for us.” These differing outlooks from the island’s working class can be seen in Margot and her taxi friend’s conversation. Some are willing to just be satisfied with what they are given, while others make it their personal prerogative to contest the aspects of a system they deem unfair.
As readers, we benefit from characters so intimately close, yet different. The contrast of their individual goals paint their identities, and their eyes provide windows into the diverse lives that make Jamaica. Margot’s household is her leaning rock and driving force behind gaining income and leaving their poverty-stricken neighborhood of River Bank. They all differ in age and desire; Thandi (Margot’s younger sister) wants to bleach her skin, attend art school and get a boyfriend like a modern Western world girl, Margot will stop at nothing to see her family rise from poverty, and Delores (their mother), who once sold Margot to a man for $600 dollars, still sells trinkets to tourists in the market. But they are all willing to do anything for each other, and to transcend the poverty of River Bank.
For me, turning the last page felt like departing from my parents’ birthplace, a trip I did not want to end. I felt strongly that there were more stories to be sung, more houses to visit for lunch, and sweaty, tropical mysteries to be uncovered. An indescribable and resounding empathy still pounds in my chest for the many characters and their respective hustles, in Here Comes the Sun. I saw them as my aunts and cousins, and the novel itself acted as a mirror, showing me ingrained parts of my character I do not often wish to face, let alone change.
This story is far from flowery, nor is it a vacation from critical thinking. Every inch of this text is vibrant with encapsulating colors, charismatic personalities, and foods. Even the way people say “good morning” and “good afternoon” to one another has a story behind it. But to understand it, the reader must first take off their sunscreen-stained Transitions and listen closely to the sounds of a people driven by collective and individual purpose.