A review by Grenville Ashby for Jamaica’s Gleaner.
New Book: UJA: The Book that Changed Jamaica by Ira Poyser
What if Jamaica reflected on its boundless potential? What if Jamaicans banded together and explored ways to better their lot? What if Jamaicans held politicians to the fire and demanded results? And what if Jamaica unearthed the enviable resourcefulness of their ancestors to create an economically robust society?
Ira Poyser’s ambages meander through reality and fantasy with a compelling projection of possibilities. We are teleported to a Jamaica that is self-actualised, thanks to the prodigious insight of Reeve Spencer, a businessman who introduces solar energy as a domestic and marketable commodity; and Orson Matisse, a retired Olympian whose august demeanour, passion, and integrity propel him to the highest office in the land. But his marriage to an ex-convict is fodder for the opposition leading to a growing conundrum. It stands that the success of Matisse’s Universal Party, on the heels of its best selling manifesto, Universalising JA, cannot be compromised. After winning a nail-biting election, Orson’s wife chooses to return to the US. Her husband’s position demands unfettered attention. Fast-forward to 2030 and Jamaica, an island of merely 3 million people, has become a key energy supplier to several countries, including the United States. Establishment politics long buried under its own weight give way to new political dynamism. Entrepreneurship booms, and for the first time in its chequered history, Jamaica is empowered. And there are instructive lessons. Poyser describes the all-hands-on-deck approach to politicking. When a solar panel malfunctions, Spencer “went on the roof himself … and the local community gathered [as] they recalled years of protests and letters to MPs, which were flatly ignored.” Spencer later shares his views on his party’s raison d’etre: “I feel like a ****** Che Guevara. You hear weh mi seh. De people been waiting too long, fi dis change. Fi de teefin an ****** robbin, fi stap.” And “[t]he crowd erupted into cheers … they had never heard a politician speaking so frankly.”
Earlier, an interview with the soon-to-be ousted prime minister proves equally telling. “Why have in a daring scene crime and murders not been eradicated?” he’s asked. And a slew of questions: “If we know it’s a cultural issue, then what are we doing to change the culture? If we know the solution, then what is stopping us collecting enough taxes to employ enough officers to fight crime?”
A DRASTIC CHANGE
Jamaicans experience a drastic change of fortunes with the ascendency of Orson.
“Through Orson, and Reeve’s backing,” we learn, “Vision 2030 had been made real 10 years early in the same year as the election, with everything associated with good human relationships, including fair wages, ethical and ecological business, and the beginning of world-class customer service.”
As nationals bask in their economic independence, Jamaica’s athletic team continues to shatter records, even winning a lawsuit against the World Athletic Committee for shielding some countries in a doping scandal.
But Poyser labours on this moment in time. His cadence becomes strained and the colour and vibrancy of his characters dim. He must change gears. He does, but veers off course. He introduces a new plot involving Leo, the athletic son of the Prime Minister. Shielded from island politics, he lives in the US. In a daring scene, he races to the airport to escape a killer tornado and is lifted and whirled through time and space in the vortex of nature’s wrath. He finds himself in a sparsely populated town where he is ably assisted. We are later introduced to a duplicitous and evil character who drugs Leo and leads him to the underground world of illegal boxing. After a single fight, he is wrestled from the clutches of his captives in incredulous rescue that involves loved ones and a private investigator.
Regrettably, Poyser’s vision becomes blurred, a victim of haste and indecision. After a dogged, determined and optimistic start, he rifles through his thoughts only to come up short.
Yes, there are bright, provocative moments, and he does challenge us to reflect. Decades after independence, Jamaica grapples with soaring crime, poverty and political inertia. For an island that has produced its fair share of social and political thinkers, we can only ponder over its struggles. Poyser swerves from this potentially engaging discourse, opting to inject an irrelevant subplot that siphons the blood from his work. Maybe he sees Universal-ising JA as merely a novel; but are we not wiser because of the Caribbean novelist? And amid our disappointment, we try to make sense of the unmistakable parallel between a Jamaica that is full of promise and the unfulfilled potential of Poyser’s undertaking. Despite the author’s impressive leap of faith, he stumbles, not unlike the country he so loves.