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Paint the Town Red

Authors: Brian Meeks

Published by Peepal Tree Press

ISBN: 9781900715744

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Brian Meeks’s novel is a moving requiem for the years of an extraordinary ferment in Jamaican society, when reggae and Rastafarian dreams reached from the ghettoes to the University campus, and idealistic young men and women threw themselves into the struggle to free independent Jamaica from its colonial past. In portraying the the temptations towards tribal revenge that corrupted the vision of change, Meeks’s sensitively written and well-structured novel speaks powerfully to the present, when even now, Jamaica’s political divisions erupt into killings on the streets.

As Mikey Johnson takes a minibus through Kingston on his release from eleven years in jail, what he sees and the persons he meets provoke memories of the years when those who sought to destabilize Jamaican society, fearful of the radical socialist direction it was taking, unleash a virtual civil war. His encounters reveal that few have escaped unscathed from those years: there are the dead (in body and in spirit), the wounded, the turncoats, and those like himself who are condemned to carry the burden of those times.

Mikey's quest to discover why he survived when his friend Carl and lover, Rosie, were killed in a shootout with the police draws him to look for Caroline, the other woman he was involved with before his imprisonment. From her he discovers a bitter truth about Jamaica's unwritten code of class and its role in his survival.

One of the encounters is, we learn in a postscript to the novel, with Rohan, Rosie's brother. Rohan has suffered this loss deeply, but has survived to move forward, while Mikey, with the stigma of his imprisonment, is trapped in the past. It is Rohan who tells Mikey’s story, a revelation that casts a reflexive light on the relationship between the actual writer and his subject.

Brian Meeks was born in Montreal, Canada of West Indian parents and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. He has taught political science at the University of the West Indies, Mona for many years.
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