“Here Comes the Sun” is a gloomy unrelenting portrayal about a paradise that is anything but that, to the inhabitants that occupy the island of Jamaica. Dennis Benn goes beyond the superficial by revealing a Jamaica that is so much more than the white sand beaches, titillating reggae beats and the legacy Bob Marley left behind.
In this new novel, poverty dictates the actions and pursuits of those on an island where opportunities for advancement are slim. The story follows the lives of a family of three women spanning three generations in the village of River Bank that sits right next to Montego Bay, a city that is dominated by the hotel industry.
Margot, the focal point of the story, works at a nearby hotel, Palm Star Resort, and sells her body on the side to male tourists looking for a good time. She convinces herself that the reason why she is engaging in her own sexual exploitation is to help pay for her younger sister’s education. Thandi, the younger sister, attends Saint Emmanuel, an elite high school in Jamaica. Throughout the novel, Thandi is more concerned with becoming an artist and bleaching her skin with the hopes of finally being viewed as beautiful by her peers. She is in constant search of validation from a culture that she perceives as preferring both women and men, alike, to have a light skin tone. Delores, the matriarch of the family, makes her living selling trinkets to tourists. Delores, along with Margot, believes that she will one day escape the poverty that she lives in if only she encourages Thandi to pursue nothing else but her education.
There aren’t many happy moments in “Here Comes the Sun” but the few happy moments that do make it in, revolve around sexuality and who feels the most comfortable in showing their true selves. There is a mask of strength that all three women attempt to wear, but it’s in their vulnerable and self-reflective moments that we truly get to see who they really are and what they really desire.
While Margot is consumed with taking her career to new heights in the hotel industry by recklessly selling her body to men and leads the way in selling the bodies of others, she finds pleasure in the arms of a woman. Verdene is Margot’s lover and an outcast in River Bank. Historically, homosexuality has been a taboo topic and concern in Jamaica. Hate crimes against those who are gay are frequent and subsequently rationalized, thus we see how same-sex partners are dealt with through the display of Verdene and Margot’s relationship. Benn does a good job of showing what it means to be gay in an overly religious society that condemns homosexuality.
Though prostitution, colorism and homosexuality are the popular topics of note, arguably, all of these problems stem from how one’s negative view of Blackness manifests into dysfunctional behavior. Though Jamaica is a majority-Black island where most can trace their lineage back to West Africa, the lingering effects of slavery persists.
A plethora of negative comments are made in regards to the sun and most are in relation to the horrors it can create to those with darker skin. “Remembah to stay outta the sun like ah tell yuh,” one character says. “God nuh like ugly.” Unfortunately, this is the prevailing sentiment about Blackness, which is not uncommon.
“Here Comes the Sun” is a heartfelt debut novel that incites conversation and brings to light the conditioning of Black people within the Diaspora.