cover image Pao


Kerry Young. Bloomsbury, $15 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-60819-507-7

Young's vexingly inert debut presents the post-WWII history of Jamaica as told in the pidgin English of Yang Pao, a Sun Tzu%E2%80%93quoting strongman in Kingston's Chinatown. After arriving in the city in 1938, Pao rises through the ranks of the local underworld to run a protection and stolen goods racket, and falls in love with Gloria, a beautiful prostitute who bears him a child. But his ambitions lead him away from Gloria and toward Fay, the daughter of one of Kingston's richest Chinese men. After he marries Fay, Pao's business empire grows, but his personal life proves disastrous, leading him to consult The Art of War for advice. The unusual cultural perspective gives the novel's early pages some fire, but the decision to structure the book, particularly in the final third, around milestones of recent Jamaican history, makes the book feel more like an informal history, especially as political and economic minutiae of Jamaica's independence from Britain ("By the mid 1950s Jamaica was on the up, especially because they discover the bauxite") become more prevalent. Once the focus settles more on Jamaican politics than the characters, the story dries up and never recovers, and what felt at the outset like an intriguing epic ends up dull. (July)