“How to Love a Jamaican” is a collection of stories about relationships – specifically (and most importantly) relationships between and involving people of Jamaican descent. The characters that Alexia Arthurs has brought together in her debut short story collection mirror the myriad experiences that many Jamaicans face – from the 1st-generation American-born college student to the born and bred yardie. Arthurs’ has a gift of encapsulating each voice, emotion, and fear into a single collection that at its heart longs for acceptance.
In the collection’s opener “Light-Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” our storyteller searches for belonging in a college environment that does not open up to her as a lower-middle class student unable to afford the privilege of living on campus. Ultimately, our narrator finds a Jamaican friend from a different class background, but comes to soon realize that just because two people may have come from the same place does not mean that they hold the same values. Arthurs has a gift of transcendence. The ability to take on so many different voices but have each feel authentic. It is interesting that each narrator feels lost in someway, like the brother who searched for his mother’s approval or the pop star who returned home. As a Jamaican-born person, these feelings of longing resonate with me. It is difficult to hold on to a culture, while being immersed in a new, very different, and sometimes suffocating unfamiliar place.
Arthurs stories are much appreciated and very relatable to me. It is a collection that is sure to resonate with the Jamaican diaspora as well as everyone else. The recipes, smells, and sounds described in the stories are real. The people are real. The experiences are real. Still, each piece is palatable, easily digestible by anyone that feels lost in any way. The stories do not provide any roughness a la Marlon James or any of the popular mainstream stories that have been told of the Land of Wood and Water. They are tender and profound in their own right, and I can only hope that more of these stories will be told in a way that we can feel proud of and also seen in.