Best book on West Kingston in 1960s

Review by Professor Emerita Elsa Leo-Rhynie

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West Kingston has a storied past and, arguably, no other account of the community surpasses that captured by Paul G. Jennings in “Vignettes” published in 2014. The book, considered a classic, paints a detailed and vivid description of life in West Kingston during the 1950s and 1960s. It is an important contribution to Jamaica’s traditions and heritage.

Jamaican Life and Travel considers the book of such importance to a better understanding of West Kingston’s significant contribution to Jamaican culture, it has determined to use this channel to present it to a global audience. Following is an excerpt of a review of Vignettes by Elsa A. Leo-Rhynie, Professor Emerita, University of the West Indies, that was published in the Sunday Gleaner of May 4, 2014.

Excerpt of review

Paul Jennings’s ‘Vignettes’ is intended to stir our thoughts, memories, and emotions with the nostalgia and poignancy of recollections and reminiscences of the rich experiences of his childhood in West Kingston…

Dr. Jennings’ stories of his childhood, teenage years and young adulthood are told with clarity and humour – the flashbacks of his growing up days are vivid and he has a writing style which allows him to tell stories which incorporate important aspects of Jamaica’s history in a way which will appeal to readers of all ages in a variety of cultural contexts.

This book will appeal to a very wide audience: it is a book for all ages; for families to read together and for teachers to read to their students.

Jennings’ journey from childhood to adulthood took place in West Kingston in the 1950s. His graphic descriptions of people and places as well as accepted community practices, involving the neighbourhood regulars – barber, tailor, dressmaker, police officer, postman, shoemaker and itinerant vendors – paint pictures for the reader who can also envisage them working within the community with its tenement yards, bars, and cook shops which were part of the environment…

The vignettes of community life provide the reader with accounts of experiences which evoke laughter as well as apprehension, sadness and anger…

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It is a book to be read and talked about as it recalls so many of the incidents which made early life memorable for young people in the 1950s and 1960s… It is an important contribution to the preservation of our traditions and heritage.

With Independence came new developments which Jennings has captured from a young inner city resident’s perspective. Suspicion of Rastafarianism and the growing embrace of the beliefs of this sect (including the growing of ‘locks’) by youth in the community are described. Political rivalry which mushroomed in the 1960s and 1970s is recounted and the author devotes several vignettes to the evolution of the fledgling music industry from Ska to Rocksteady to Reggae and Dancehall.

As a music entrepreneur/DJ, the young and aspiring event promoter Paul Jennings was intimately involved in the music revolution of the time. Teenage gender relationships and the prevailing norms, especially the role of movie theatres in the “courting” days of that time are also told with humour.

A love of sports, but especially cricket, was and continues to be an integral part of the life of the author. Particularly entertaining are his descriptions of ‘beating the gate” to attend cricket matches at Sabina Park and even at Lord’s Cricket ground in England.

One thing that is striking is the relative freedom a youth at that time had within his community to roam, observe and interact with community members.  Nowadays we hear of children being unable to venture into certain areas close to their homes or cross certain streets because of political rivalry. It is a very sad commentary that in just one or two generations such freedom to explore has been lost because of the nation’s sociological, political and economic circumstances and the criminal elements associated with those aspects of our development.

This book will appeal to a very wide audience: it is a book for all ages; for families to read together and for teachers to read to their students. One of the author’s objectives in penning this manuscript is to assist young people and particularly young men from similar early circumstances as his, to see the potential and possibilities which exist for them…

It is a book to be read and talked about as it recalls so many of the incidents which made early life memorable for young people in the 1950s and 1960s. It shares with young people of today interesting aspects of Jamaica’s past, and exposes them to rich experiences which typified the lives and shaped the hopes, dreams and values of young people at that time.  It is an important contribution to the preservation of our traditions and heritage.

Want to know more about the history of West Kingston?

Vignettes: Flashbacks From a Rich West Kingston Youth will give you a clearer understanding of the underpinnings of the factors which have shaped the development of West Kingston making it what it is today.

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