Sunday, September 27, 2009

A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica was our book club selection for this month. It's by Richard Hughes and was first published in 1929. It's a fascinating and troubling book because it explores the capacity for survival of a group of small children.

A British family are living in Jamaica, but the parents decide to send the children back to England after a hurricane because they think it will be a safer, less "savage" place for their children. On the journey, their ship is taken over by pirates, and through some Home Alone shenanigans, the children end up on the pirate ship, rather to the dismay of the pirates.

By today's standards, both the parents and the pirates possess abysmal child-caring skills, leaving the children to self-regulate and self-rule. In a nearly supervisor-less world, the children create their own set of rules and morality that most people would find quite different than the a priori mores of society.

Children's inherent lack of morality is something that really fascinates me and it was quite interesting, however disturbing, to read Hughes tale of these little kids. Throughout the book, he brings in a variety of animals, both domesticated and wild, as if to compare them to the children - but I think what becomes clear is that the children are (obviously) like neither animal nor (adult) person.

One of the cool things about book club is that everyone shows up not only with their own opinions about the book, but also, literally, their own versions of the book. I had the most recent printing with an intro by Francine Prose and cover with Henry Darger image, but friends had a copy from (I think) the 40s with color lithographs published under the original US title, "An Innocent Voyage" and another from the early 30s with absolutely fabulous one-color lithographs. If you read it, and I encourage you to, head to your local library and find the oldest copy you can get.

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