Thursday, 26 July 2018

Mothering in Jamaican Novels and Autobiographies (1990-2020)

Mothering in 41 Jamaican Novels Storybooks and Memoirs published between 1990 and 2020

First drafted, 2016, this update, July 2021

Link to Goodreads Shelf

Video of Essay

I appreciate the work of the writers from Jamaica who have put their thoughts down in text. I have gained some new idea or new way of considering our society and lifestyles after reading them.

In 2016, I drafted an article on the theme of mothering that I read in Jamaican non-academic books that were published after 2000. It was not a good look for Jamaican mothers, as I had the sense that writers were weaving tales and recalling memories that emphasize failures in mothering more than anything else. I deleted the article and thought that these thoughts were perhaps an expression of what I was experiencing in my own life. As it turns out, later that year I participated in the Jamaica Library Service National Book Reading Competition and started to even more books by Jamaicans.

2020 was my fifth year of intensely reading books by Jamaican authors, and I continued to observe that mothering is almost always a theme or a plot twist by these writers, so I am braving the matter again to share what I have noted.

In short, I considered the themes in about 83 books written by Jamaicans which are memoirs, children storybooks, YA novels and adult novels. Of these, I came up with a list of 62 that were published between 1990 and 2000 and listed 41 of those as having the role of mothering as a theme. Looking at it this way, in 83 books that I have read, 40 or about half had mothering as a major theme. Of the 62 contemporary books, 66% had this as a major theme.

Many of the books that I have written about here have been critically acclaimed so we can assume that the writers are doing the job of introspection and are delivering a story with vitality and in context. What though, are they saying about the role of mothering?

This essay is my reading of these books which is open to interpretation. It was not my goal to cover every nuance and even as I edited this essay, I found reasons to change my view.

If I made you think about reading a book by a Jamaican author, my heart will be glad.

Perhaps the best-known Caribbean - not Jamaican - work on an intense mothers and daughters relationship is the 1985 novel Annie John by the Antiguan writer, Jamaica Kincaid. The book is followed up by other Kincaid novels where conflict between mother and daughter and acidic criticism of the mother is a dominant theme. Her novel of 1988 "A Small Place", for example is a commentary on her motherland.

To be placed on my mothering shelf, the books had to have the impact of mothering on the life of the protagonist. I wanted to have a contemporary feel, so limited the publishing date to 1990 and after. The book with the most recent publishing date is 2020, so this review covers books published within those 30 years.

Three Britain and Canada Born Writers

I first wish to highlight acclaimed novels that were written by three authors who have Jamaican roots: Andrea Levy, Zaidie Smith and Zalika Reid-Benta.

We start, as we must, with Andrea Levy’s Small Island which can be described as a story of two women Hortense and Queenie, who are forging a new society in post war England experiencing dislocation, racism, contemplating their personal aspirations and swooning in romantic attractions; but the lives of two families turn on the birth of a child and importantly, who importantly becomes its mother. The book won the Orange Prize for fictionWhitbread Award for Novel and Book of the Year (2004), and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book Overall (2005) and has been adapted for the stage by the UK National Theatre and also for television.

In "White Teeth" by Zaidie Smith, a major character, Irie, is a second generation British Jamaican, her mother is notable in that she has no teeth. This is just one way that we know that Irie's mother tries, but does not succeed in achieving her dreams in British society. Irie's grandmother, who was born in Jamaica, becomes a very important mentor for Irie, and Irie later wants to become a dentist, probably as a way to continually save her mother and earlier female antecedents who could not fully benefit from opportunities of living in Britain. In 2000, White Teeth won or was highly acclaimed by at least 7 major literary award programmes including the Whitbread Award for First Novel (2000), and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book Overall (2001).

Canadian teenage character, Kara Davis, lives between her mother’s modern ways that are driven by a desire to achieve academic goals, and her grandmother’s ways which are driven by always keeping an immaculate house, a husband in the house and serving up wonderful meals. The book Frying Plantain is by Jamaican Canadian Zalika Reid-Benta and the book won the 23rd annual Danuta Gleen literary award in 2019.

Delightful Mothers

There are five autobiographies or memoirs in my mothering list. I will mention three now. Two are autobiographies by cricketers, and these two are overwhelmingly in praise of motherhood. In Whispering Death, Michael Holding gives kudos to his parents Ralph and Enid Holding, individually and together, for his upbringing. He credits his mother for her role in his nurturing of the game of cricket. He emphasizes in his book that the Holding Pavilion at the Melbourne Cricket Club, Kingston is a family pavilion and is not named in his individual honour. 

Chris Gayle, whose autobiography "Six Machine: I don't Like Cricket, I Love It" gives credit to his parents Dudley and Hazel Gayle as nurturers and unwavering sources of love. His mother is a hero in his life then, and also now, and he absolutely delights in her.

The autobiography, "Thriving in the Care of Many Mothers" by Rosemary Borel is not considered  in this account but I am sneaking it in here as it is an outstanding tale of how one girl was raised by four caring women who came into her life at different stages, although her mother was living and working in Jamaica. Rosemary was the result of an unplanned pregnancy of a middle class woman who at that stage of her life preferred to fund a child rather than give her time to the cares and responsibilities of motherhood. The father cared not at all until he was directed by his wife to care.

"Lives of a Soul" by Courtney Lodge is an autobiography by but it reads like fantastic fiction. Here he travelled through time and landed where he could be redeemed from actions of a past life and he selected the perfect mother who gave him up, for spiritual reasons, to be raised by the perfect stepmother.

Abigail's Glorious Hair is by children’s book author Diane Browne and it demonstrates how mothers play a role how their children perceive themselves. Abigail's best times are when her hair is being combed by her mother. The action reinforces love and gives her a feeling of being nurtured.

The Magic of Confidence e-book by Janelle Murdoch is about 12-year-old Danielle who is looking forward to receiving what every other girl in her school receives, magical powers. When it does not come, she learns that her parents, in particular her mother, out of love and an abundance of protection caused her to be denied these powers. It is the wise grandmother who later steps in and gives Danielle the opportunity that she craves.

Of the other magical realism / fantasy books on my list, three are YA books, two of them underscore the high rank of mothers in societies. Susan Francis Browne's "The Mermaid Escapade"  is a children's heroic adventure, and the prominent central figure for them is the wise River Mumma, a queen mother who helps mer children Lula and Susura and human children Kwame, Abena and Elena. River Mumma is also a mythical queen in the "Delroy in the Marog Kingdom" by Billy Elm. River Mumma also supports Delroy in an important and dangerous quest. In both books, the nurturing of mothers, fathers nad the community provides a foundation for the development of the children’s characters.

Still in the realm of fantasy and magical realism is the novel Sketcher, which was written by the newly minted 2021 Regional Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner Roland Watson-Grant. The novel Sketcher started out as a short story and won the 2011 Lightship International Prize. In the book, the no-nonsense mother, Valerie Beumont, is imbued with magical powers, and her son Skid believes that what she bequeaths to her children can mend aspects of the past and create the future they are imagining for themselves.

The reflection on childhood "All Over Again" by AdZiko Simba Gegele is nostalgic, of a beautiful past epoch. That book won the 2014 Burt Award for Literature prize. This theme of loving, united parenting of young children is the major theme in this book and also in "No Boy Like Amanda" by Hope Barnett. In both books, the two-parent, single household family securely exists in a safe community which reinforces the idea that values are shared across generations.

Michelle Thompson's "A Way To Escape" is the triumph of the hard working mother over a failed marriage and working class situation. Rose is the quintessential mother who overcomes hardships through grit and prayer, keeps her children together, and then successfully escapes from Jamaica to Canada. 

Nicola Yoon’s debut novel The Sun is Also a Star is about Natasha and Daniel who fall in love the day that she is to be deported from the USA to Jamaica. It was accorded the New York Times Notable Book of 2016 and has been made into a feature film. We learn that Natasha’s mother’s greatest aspiration is that her children do well in the USA and this is also Natasha’s dream for herself. Her father is content to be happy in his life and wishes he could be living in Jamaica. Daniel’s parents are Americans from Korea and his mother is an has high expectations for her sons and does not want them to depart from their Korean traditions.

Escape is the sub-text of Pamella K Marshall's Barrel Children series. In "Breaking The Cycle"  Will and Sara grew up in Jamaica as barrel children and were raised by conscientious relatives who became surrogate parents as their own parents migrated in chase of financial success. As adolescents, they became romantically involved, migrated and married each other. Their relationship was continually under the strain of their own feelings that were caused by parental abandonment and shame that they were not good enough to be wanted by their mothers. What keeps them together is that they do not want to abandon their children and are determined to give them a secure family life. Marshall has said that it is her experience in social work with Jamaicans living in the USA that led her to write a story that would not just show what emotional trauma barrel children live through, but the book would offer a map for others on how to nurture healthy family life in the USA.

The Dixons by Claudette Beckford Brady introduces the proverbial evil in an otherwise safe and beautiful garden. The Dixon family lives in a rural town in Jamaica with a wise and loving mother and hardworking and loving father, and they are the rescuers of a girl who is floundering because of negligent parents, particularly a negligent mother. 

I have observed the role of mothers in three novels of the late Garfield Ellis. From memory, as I have not re-read them recently, "For Nothing At All" and "Wake Rasta" tell of neglect by mothers who took their eyes off their children, allowing them to be carried away into the unsavoury sides of life's experiences. This parental neglect extends into the community as there are weak support systems to promote integrity, but strong systems for honour among thieves. The third book by Ellis, "Such As I Have" which won the 2000 Una Marson Award for Adult Literature seems to have been a foreshadowing of his own life experiences. This book is centred around the handsome and virile Headley and his infatuation with Pam, a young woman who has a lot on her mind. The mother of Pam, a feared warner woman, is crucial for this story of devotion and acceptance that Ellis wanted to tell. 

Motherless Children

The hapless fate of the motherless child who is hurt by life is well explored in the four books "Mr King's Daughter", "Turn Back Blow", "The Last Warner Woman" and Augustown.

The late Hazel Campbell was one of Jamaica’s leading short story writers and children writers from the 1970s for nearly 50 years. The short e-book Mr King’s Daughter features Simone who is locked in luxury with her pet cat Biddy and servant G. This is her doting fathers’ way to control who he would eventually choose as a son-in-law. She makes decisions that cause her to enter into worries which are resolved with the love of a good man. The unwritten message is that, although father did his best, the young woman would have avoided those worries if she had a sensible female parent in her life.

The hilarious "Turn Back Blow" by Roger Williams features the orphan Clifton whose friends are wild and domestic animals, and who is suffering because he lives with an abusive uncle who is also involved in crime. The protection and nurturing of the boy is provided by his animal friends and also another child.

Kei Miller's "The Last Warner Woman"  is the story of Adamine Bustamante whose mother died, leaving her to be raised by an elderly woman who works in a leper colony, in other words, in an extremely  marginalised society.  It is hardly surprising then that the naive Bustamante is vulnerable to the vagaries of Jamaican society and then the wider world.

Augustown, also by Kei Miller, won the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and was nominated for the Jamaican Lignum Vitae award and several other international awards. In it, pre-teen Kaia and teen Gina have no living mother in their home in the struggling community of Augustown, they are being mothered by a well-meaning, spiritualist elderly relative whose outlook is somewhat different from what they experience in their lives. There is, though, a mythical community mother who empathizes with them and who weeps for them. The other teen in the book is Michael, who lives in a wealthy community, and he also benefits from living in a home with a loving mother and father and all creature comforts. The difference could not be starker.

Nalo Hopkinson is the author of the other two high fantasy / science fiction books. Brown Girl in the Ring received recognition by being nominated for several awards including the fantasy fiction award for Canada the Prix Aurora Award. In 2020, twenty two years after it was published, Time Magazine placed it on the list “The 100 Top Fantasy Novels Of All Time”. The protagonist is young mother, Ti Jean, who is at a turning point in her life where she has to decide whether she is going to stay with her child’s father or follow in the footsteps of her wise, spiritual grandmother who raised her. Based on the situation, she cannot have both. While she is doing this, the machinations of her absent parents force her hands, and she comes face to face with her pitiful mother and her powerful father.

Hopkinson’s book “Sister Mine” is also family bound with the sisters Abby and Makeda, who are twins with significant differences. Now the weaker twin must become stronger in order to save the parent who sacrificed everything for their family, and that parent is not their mother. Their mother became a sea creature after they were born and did not raise them. In 2014 Sister Mine won the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy.

Rachel Manley’s first memoir, Drumblair, Memories of a Jamaican Family, opened up the private lives of what was the country’s premier political family from the 1930s to about the 1970s.  The book won the Canada Governor General’s Award for Non-fiction in 1997 and was the first of three memoirs about Manley’s motherless childhood in Jamaica and she burnishes the reputations of the grandparents who raised her in her recollections.

To recap, I have recounted thirteen books where the mother is a force for good; Whispering Death, Six Machine, Abigail's Glorious Hair, Such As I Have, Mermaid Escapade, All Over Again, No Boy Like Amanda, A Way to Escape; Delroy in the Marog Kingdom, Sketcher, Small Island, The Sun is Also a Star and the Magic of Confidence. 

Seven books have examples of good counterbalanced with bad or inept mothering: White Teeth, Lives of A Soul, For Nothing At All, Wake Rasta, The Dixons, Breaking The Cycle and Frying Plantain.

Missing mothers whose children are being nurtured by others are in seven books, Mr King's Daughter, Turn Back Blow, Last Warner Woman, Augustown, Brown Girl in the Ring, Sister Mine and Drumblair.

We have gone through 27 books and now turn to books where the mother is a theme in the book, but not as a force for good. We have come to the Disgraceful Mothers and mothers who hurt.

The children’s book by Diane Brown, The Happiness Dress can be read as a criticism of members of the diaspora who disparage Jamaican traditions as outdated. Little British born Carolyn has received a dress as a gift. It was sewn in Jamaica from many different kinds of colourful fabrics. Carolyn loves her dress, but her mother and grandmother who live with her in Britain reject it as unsophisticated. Carolyn's father intervenes, and Carolyn finally has permission to wear the dress. On that first day out she receives endless compliments from the multicultural members of her community who admire her Happiness Dress. The book seems to be a direct caution by Browne to persons who love Jamaica, but who discount and belittle its traditions that have produced world leading personalities.

Shameful Shadows by Ditta Sylvester is set in idyllic rural Jamaica where family relationships are convoluted because of the tempestuous romantic life of Daisy. Family life decisions that are later taken by her children Earl and Vinell are a direct result of their observations of their mother: Earl becomes ultra conservative and fearful of marriage, while Vinell yearns for closeness and takes directly opposing decisions. The author deliberately shows us what happens when, as a Jamaican proverb warns, “you lay yourself careless”.

Carol Dunn's family saga, "The Mountain of Inheritance", which won a 2006 JCDC gold medal award, actually has several mother themes. It starts with a girl who is placed into sexual slavery by her mother, and that is only the start. Through the book there are other examples of sexual decisions that women made that did not help the lives of the children that they had control over. The book does demonstrate how protagonists can rescue themselves from the impact of harmful family histories.

The 2015 second place Burt Prize for Caribbean literature went to Diana Macaulay’s Gone To Drift and the book was awarded the Vic Reid Prize for Young Adult Literature in . The first place for that year was the Guyanese writer Imam Bakish for his novel Children of the Spider. In Macaulay’s book, pre-teen Lloyd is desperately searching for his grandfather who has gone missing. Grandfather Conrad is a humble and honest fisherman and the boy’s mentor and close companion. Lloyd’s mother is the consort of a criminal and she also does not care for her son. In her 2016 review of this book, and I am not directly quoting from her popular blog Petchary’s Blog, Emma Lewis notes that Lloyd’s mother provides food and shelter but always seems to have her back turned to him. The book tells us that grandfather Conrad grew up in a happy, loving and - aside from the dangers of living from the sea - secure and very poor family.

Coleen Dennis-Smith details traits of uncaring mothers in her books and I mention two, Generation Curse? and For Her Son.

My colleagues who read "Generation Curse?" really disliked it, but I loved the book's metaphors, imagery, characters and plot development but can have sympathy for readers for being disgusted by the storyline of Mrs Harmond, a poor, pious, elderly rural grandmother who does not complain about raising the ten grandchildren that her children have left on her to raise without any support. Although she lives an upright lifestyle and is kind to her grandchildren, one after another they come to grief and their parents do not care. The one daughter who does help Mrs Hammond has a stable family environment and steady employment.  

"For Her Son" , also by Smith-Dennis, is about a mother living in affluence but she displays terrible mothering. In this book, Bernard Junior, is being ruined because of his overly indulgent mother, while her older son Jared, fathered by the man who broke her heart as a young woman, is despised by her.

Two generations of women are considered in Nicole Dennis-Benn's novel “Here Comes The Sun” which won the 2016 Lambda Award for Lesbian Fiction.  Delores trains her elder daughter Margot to be a sacrifice so that the younger daughter Thandi can have a better life and be the star in the family. Margot accepts her role, and she takes on prostitution as a side hustle to her job as a hotel concierge. Delores, who is a craft market vendor provides no moral example or emotional support for either daughter. The entire book, I can also add, is a condemnation of the tourism industry as experienced in the Caribbean.

Melanie Schwapp's "Dew Angels" won the Literary Classics 2014 Words on Wings Young Adult prize. It features the sensitive and ambitious Nola who is mistreated by her parents because of her skin colour. The society has biases and customs but Nola’s mother never protected her daughter from prejudice even within the bosom of the family.

Colour again plays a role in "Dancing Lessons" by our current Poet Laureate Olive Senior. This is senior’s only novel and it was short listed for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. Gertrude, an elderly woman, comes to her moment of reckoning where her own fate is now in the hands of one of her daughters. Gertrude is living in an upscale nursing home and is reflecting on her life growing up without a mother. She ascribes everything bad that happened to her to be as the result of being a dark-skinned child raised by a family of light skinned relatives, even though those relatives cared and supported her advancement. Gertrude had a broken marriage and their children ended up loving their father more than her. Gertrude frames herself as a survivor of an unfair life and who had to suffer at the hands of ungrateful children, bad husband and a dysfunctional family.

Vibration From Palampalam by Dorrell Wilcott is the story of Dalphus who grows up in a haunted woodland where there is no love among the three members of a family: mother, father and son. The marriage came about because it provided financial security for the mother and higher social status for the father. The book says of the mother that she, “had seen everything that she disliked about her husband in that little boy.” There was no warming of the mother /son relationship over time, but he found reasons to have affection for his father. As a middle-aged man, Dalphus seemed to have transferred hatred of his mother to his Mother-in-law.

The most excruciating examination of the mother / child relationship is a 2016 memoir of Lady Colin Campbell and the title explains exactly what the content of this book. The title is “Daughter of Narcissus A Family's Struggle to Survive Their Mother's Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Through her own self-help as an adult, Campbell has learned about the field of Psychology and uses this to explain her mother Gloria. Campbell exposes that Gloria’s lack of discipline and correction in childhood caused sides of her personality to fester into narcissism and alcoholism. On reading it, visions of the character Scarlett O’Hara from the novel Gone With the Wind came to my mind as Scarlett may have become a Gloria if she did not have the firm and kind guidance of Mammy. Gloria’s decision, for financial and social status reasons, to live with a lothario husband who physical abused his children and employees only worsened her mental state. You can imagine the very negative long-term impact that this had on her close associations. The role of the grandmother becomes increasingly important to the children’s well-being as they get older and their mother succumbs to her own destructive neuroses. The book, also shows how Campbell and her siblings took personal responsibility to shape a successful life outside of her negative family experiences.


Melanie Schwapp’s Lest We Find Gold is the story of Milly’s decision to endure physical and mental abuse to maintain affluence, and that this was a direct result of Milly seeing her mother accept mistress status as a means to financial security. Milly’s mother deliberately excluded her father from her upbringing. This book was reviewed in 2019 on Kelly Katharin McIntosh’s blog Here’s What I Think and McIntosh said, “Milly’s relationship with her mother is central to her own feelings of worth and yes, it informs the choices she makes.” The book allows Milly to be aware of why she made the choices that she did, and it also gave her a route to move away from them when she was mentally and emotionally ready for that change.

Did I say final two books? Sorry, I have to add two of my own books, Bad Girls in School and Young Heroes of the Caribbean. In both, I believe that I wanted to show that very close communication with children is an important part of caring for them. In Bad Girls, published in 2007 and which was short listed for the 2008 Vic Reid prize of the National Book Development Council: Taj is a barrel child whose mother is missing and whose grandmother is a bit too busy for her; Katreena's mother is focused on her career as a woman police, and Caledonia's parents are oblivious of her needs and the risks to which they have unwittingly exposed her. None of the girls were saved by either of their parents, the school system became the parent.

Young Heroes of the Caribbean published in 2015 finds a boy being aware that he is living with a loving but ignorant mother and an ambitious father. Father takes over his upbringing, and his mother has to start a journey to develop herself into a stronger individual who has personal aspirations and who can be a capable parent for her child. Along the way, she fosters a girl and improves her approach to parenting. Both my books describe mothers who are not supportive of their children emotionally and in other ways as well.

Playwrighting Mothers

I wish to slip in a commentary on plays.

I can identify the key role of mother in two recent stage plays and an audio drama.

Actress Rosie Murray starred as Audrey, a domineering mother, in the 2017 production "Tek Yu Han Offa Mi" by Michael Dawson. Audrey was a domineering mother who inveigled her daughter to stay in a violent, clandestine romantic relationship as a way to secure financial security.  Murry’s performance secured her an Actor Boy nomination for Best Actress in a Lead Role. She won the award for another role that year as a disabled woman, Patience in the David Tulloch tragedy “Not My Child”. Unfortunately, I did not see that play but I have read that mothers and daughters are at the centre of the tale.

The play "Pressure Drop" by Basil Dawkins staged in 2018 is about the turning point in the life of a family, and two mothers influence the plot; one mother is dead and the other is alive. The living mother Dotsy is living with dementia, but her racist and dishonest nature remain dominant features of her character. As a businesswoman, Dotsy’s dealings has driven many families into poverty. She dominated her daughter Deslin who sought relief in alcohol and she continually drives a wedge between Deslin and her husband Luke.

The legacy of the dearly departed mother, is a sense of stability in the family, comfort, counsel, and immortal love in the lives of her widower and her son and they try to live up to her values. Ruth Ho-Shing won the 2018 Actor Boy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting role for playing demented and unrepentant Dotsy.

2002 Commonwealth Short Story winner Michael Reckord had one of his radio plays read during the Brian Heap Creative Writing Podcast of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI Mona Creative Writing Competition 2020/2021. The Squatter is about Rory, a young man who is in a life threatening dilemma. After discussion with Reckord I have settled that Rory's precarious situation is twofold. As a young adult, he has chosen to live openly as a homosexual and his community has rejected him. His mother's hands are tied, she can love him but not protect him from social pressures. The same applies to her other son Stroppa, who's decisions have put him in an even worse situation.

So of the 41 books that have been considered here, 71% of them were written by women.

To recap, about 31.5% depict mothers having a negative effect on their children, about 31.5% have positive mothering, about 20% show mothers as having both positive and negative effects and in 17% of these books, the mother is missing and there may be a surrogate acting as a mother.

In many of the novels, there was not a sad ending or a dystopian future. Our writers allowed their characters to find a way through difficult situations. It could be said that they were optimistic about the prospects of their characters. Even old Mrs Hammond with the 10 grandchildren going the wrong way had a happy ending and Mr King’s daughter worked her way through her reckless decisions and my Ramiro in Young Heroes of the Caribbean, Conrad in Gone To Drift and Clifton in Turn Back Blow won against vicious criminals.


In this second part of the article, I will include statements on the gender of the writers of the books that I have chosen. This is a selection of only 41 books out of the potentially hundreds of books that would have been authored by Jamaicans.

It would not be unfair to denounce that separating the writers by gender is meaningless as the results would be statistically insignificant. It would be true that the exercise is influenced by my own limited selection, my personal world views and my imperfect memories, some of them dim as some of these books were read some time ago. I read White Teeth the year that it was published, exactly 20 years ago and have not re-read it. Nevertheless, I have decided to examine the list in this way, so with those warnings, I proceed.

Notes on the Collection

About 12 of the books were introduced to me through the Jamaica Library Service National Book Reading Competition between 2016 and 2020, and so would have been recently published books that were widely available in the marketplace and vetted to be of good quality as needed for a national competition to encourage reading. 

Of this bookshelf, eleven of the 41 books , or 27%, were authored by men. It would be interesting to know which sex is publishing more books in Jamaica, my own reading experience is that it is mostly women. 

Of the 13 books that portrayed negative mothering as a lead theme, one was written by a man and the other 12 had female authors.


I grouped negative behavior into five major groups: neglect, emotional abuse, carnal abuse, corruption of a child / perverse values. Emotional abuse slightly edged out neglect and corruption of a child. I do not recall any books where the mother meted out physical abuse on a child, but as I said, some of these books were read a long time ago and I would be happy to be reminded if that was an act in any of the books that I have read.

With regards to positive behaviour of mothers, I created four major groups: Industrious, protective, unconditional love and example of integrity.

This note is about women, but we can stretch over to fathers. A total of 70% of the 41 books mentioned the father and 46% or nearly half of the time, this was in a way that was positive towards the protagonists, the mother had a 31% presentation as a positive figure.

The female writers had a 50% incidence of positive fathering whereas the male writers were definitely lukewarm at 36%.

For 20% of the books, authored by women, fathers were not featured; and 36% of the time in books authored by men, the fathers are not featured.

Of my list, there were several other acclaimed books that would have been published between 1990 and 2020 that I have read, but perhaps I did not think that the theme of mothering was central to the story, but perhaps over time I may change this view.

Two of these would be the 2015 Booker Man awardee A Brief History of Seven Killings" by Marlon James; and From Harvey River by the Poet Laureate 2017 – 2020 Lorna Goodison, which is an ode to fatherhood. Then there are books that I have not yet read which may have been good for this essay. Perhaps another author will give us a note about them.

Many of the books that I have written about here have been critically acclaimed, so we can assume that the writers are doing the job of introspection and are delivering a story with vitality and in context. What visions for our society are they allowing us to contemplate by using the role of the mother?

There is more in the full essay which is on my website where I reveal what the writers say about the topic of fathering. I also give a gender comparison between outlooks of male authors versus female authors of the books that have been featured.

There is also a link to my Goodread pages of titles of books by Jamaican authors that you can borrow from a library or buy and enjoy.

This essay is my reading of these books which is open to interpretation. It was not my goal to cover every nuance and even as I edited this essay, I found reasons to change my view.

If I made you think about reading a book by a Jamaican author, my heart will be glad.


My Goodreads books with links to the books on my list is here:

The Books

  1. A Way To Escape - 
  2. Abigail's Glorious Hair - 
  3. All Over Again - 
  4. Augustown
  5. Bad Girls in School
  6. Breaking the Cycle - 
  7. Brown Girl in the Ring
  8. Dancing Lessons - 
  9. Daughter of Narcissus
  10. Delroy in the Marog Kingdom -
  11. Dew Angels – 
  12. Drumblair
  13. For her Son - 
  14. For Nothing At All - 
  15. Frying Plantain
  16. Generation Curse - 
  17. Gone To Drift - 
  18. Here Comes The Sun -
  19. Lest We Find Gold
  20. Lives of a Soul - 
  21. Mountain of Inheritance - 
  22. Mr King's Daughter - 
  23. No Boy Like Amanda - 
  24. Shameful Shadows
  25. Sister Mine
  26. Six Machine - 
  27. Sketcher
  28. Small Island
  29. Such As I have - 
  30. The Dixons - 
  31. The Happiness Dress - 
  32. The Last Warner Woman - 
  33. The Magic of Confidence
  34. The Mermaid Escapade - 
  35. The Sun is Also a Star
  36. Turn Back Blow - 
  37. Vibration From Palampalam
  38. Wake Rasta - 
  39. Whispering Death - 
  40. White Teeth - 
  41. Young Heroes of the Caribbean


I wish to honour a Jamaican and a few West Indian literary and reading platforms by calling them by name. These are associations, agencies or events whose offerings have inspired and sustained my interest in reading and writing books by Jamaicans over the past two decades and sometimes even longer.