Jamaica Magazine

She’s Gone : Book Review

Written by Staff Writer

About the Book

Kofi, a Jamaican reggae musician, and Keisha, a social researcher from South Carolina, meet at a club where Kofi’s band is playing on the tail end of a United States tour. Kofi and Keisha come together that night, seeking relief from the uneasy circumstances of their life–Keisha still trying to make up her mind about an ex-lover who keeps coming back into her life, and Kofi realizing that he is teetering on depression and the tyranny of his older lover in Jamaica. Something happens in their first meeting and Kofi convinces Keisha to take a chance and follow him to Jamaica.

She’s Gone explores the complex dynamics of two virtual strangers trying to negotiate the complicated terrain of cultural difference, class difference, and issues of gender. The Jamaica that Dawes writes about is thick with the politics of class and identity, full of characters with distinct agendas and needs–a world quite different from the stereotype of sun sea and sun. Keisha feels immediately like a stranger on the island, and Kofi’s return to Jamaica transforms him into a brooding man who finds comfort in withdrawing into himself.

Keisha takes off for the north coast, where she tries to make sense of her decisions. She is sure that she has made a mistake in coming to Jamaica. While there, she is physically attacked and left to feel as if she has no one to care for her. Kofi’s inertia is a disappointment and Keisha decides to return to America. Kofi succumbs to a deep depression and only when he discovers that Keisha is pregnant with their child does he begin a long journey across the U.S. to find Keisha. His travels take him to South Carolina, to her family, to her landscape and her history, teaching him more about Keisha and more about how much he needs her. It is never certain whether Kofi will find Keisha–her commitment is to find a new life for herself, a new space for herself.

She’s Gone delves into the psychology of desire and need as it contends with issues of culture and class. If it is a love story, it is one marked by the harsh realities of human existence that we see if the most revealing of Bob Marley’s love songs, or the cool sensual intelligence of the best of Milan Kundera. Dawes is a poet but he never let’s his poetry detract from the sheer pleasure of storytelling.

 

Book Excerpt from Chapter 1
They came across the border like a band of bearded outlaws, eight reggae rockers in a black tour bus that smelled of chewstick, garlic, and marijuana, three months after starting a U.S. tour, three weeks away from going home to Kingston.

A trooper had escorted them from Georgia. Pedro, the lanky bassman, had counted his change inside a convenience store and thought he had been shorted; after that the clerk fell into character and a tragedy was averted by Kofi, the shorthaired lead singer, who strode across the parking lot in tie-dyed jeans to interrupt his bredren’s exposition on civil rights and slavery with a simple observation: “If they call the cops they’ll search the bus. If they search the bus they’ll find the weed. If they find the weed we going to jail. If we go to jail we’ll miss the gig. If we miss the gig we miss the chance to spread the word. This country needs salvation.”

They spent the next half hour concealing guns and ganja and shouting at each other, Kofi and Pedro almost coming to blows. But nothing happened. The flashing lights did not appear. Then just outside of Columbia, the trooper showed up. No siren. No lights. And they held their breath until I-20 delivered them to South Carolina.

The performance in Columbia was going to be the twelfth gig of a Tidewater tour of small clubs and universities. The idea was to use the tour to hammer out the dynamics of the songs they were going to record in New York for their fourth album — the one they expected to bring them stardom. The first three were successful but sold well only in Europe and the Caribbean. America was not an easy market. Even though their appearance on The Grammys was a blip showing Kofi scowling and holding the Grammy that he had been handed during the sloppily organized and unglamorous pre-televised ceremony, the fact that they could stick the words Grammy winner beside their name had to count for something. Of course, critical success did not pay the bills. But with heightened interest in Marley thanks to the Marley children, and with the sweet marriage taking place between hip-hop and reggae, Pedro was convinced that something could happen.

Kofi was not convinced. He did not rap. Hip-hop rhythms were different, and hip-hop ruled black sensibilities in America.

Book Reviews

“Dawes offers vibrant characters and locales in this diaspora of black culture and strong emotions, bordering the fine line between love and madness between two troubled people.”
–Booklist

“A masterly tour de force, the language here is elegant, seductive, and tender, the irony is sharp, the humor subverts, and hope shines through. Kwame Dawes is always reinventing the Caribbean narrative, fusing myth, legend, reggae, and his own sense of style to create a powerful and tremendous art. He never ceases to amaze.”
–Chris Abani, author of Becoming Abigail and GraceLand

“This striking debut novel is from the heart and about the heart. The characters are true, the landscapes exquisite, and the relationships dynamic, insightful, and complex. Read it and be transported.”
–Bernardine Evaristo, author of The Emperor’s Babe

“She’s Gone is the kind of debut novel that stuns its readers into silence. Set in the American South, New York City, and the Caribbean, this probing novel takes us on a risky expedition to the swampy bottom of the human psyche, a murky world where dreams of love, escape, and artistic freedom swim dangerously close to heartbreak, alienation, and madness . . . She’s Gone is a work of incandescent genius.”
–Colin Channer, best-selling author of Waiting in Vain and Passing Through

“She’s Gone explores the complex dynamics of cross-cultural relationships with deep insight and compassion. The two protagonists–Kofi, a Jamaican musician, and Keisha, an African-American social researcher–are gorgeously imagined. In their commitment to searching out the truth, both within themselves and in the world around them, despite their human frailties, Kwame Dawes’ lyrical prose explores the true meaning of courage.”
–Kaylie Jones, author of A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries

 

In his debut novel, Jamaican writer Dawes unites Kofi, singer and lyricist of the Jamaican Reggae band Small Ax, and the equally last-nameless Columbia University sex researcher Keisha on the dance floor of a beachfront Carolina club, but can’t make them connect fully, with each other or as characters. With sparks flying (and over the protestations of the ambitious bass player Pedro), the two decamp to Spanish Town in the Greater Antilles, where Keisha takes a job in a private high school and Kofi, inspired by rubbish scavengers, composes social lamentations. When word comes that Kofi’s Aunt Josephine is on her deathbed, the two rush to the Jamaican backwater of Castlevale to find the old lady holding off the inevitable until she has had a chance to fill Keisha in on her nephew’s complicated genealogy. Kofi grieves by purging himself with bags of oranges, and Keisha, feeling spurned, travels deeper in-country, and ends up dissuading a would-be rapist by means of projectile vomiting. She returns to Spanish Town to bid Kofi farewell, but secondhand tidings of a pregnancy lure him into stalking her across the Caribbean. Dawes then maps out Keisha’s South Carolina backstory, but all of the attributes of these two characters-from Kofi’s Ghanian roots to Keisha’s tardily-recovered molestation memories and abuse at the hands of former beau Troy-don’t gel.
From Publishers Weekly

About the Author
Kwame Dawes is an award-winning Ghanian-born Jamaican author of several books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. He teaches at the University of South Carolina, where he is Distinguished Poet in Residence and director of the USC Arts Institute and the SC Poetry Initiative. Dawes is the programmer for the annual Jamaican Calabash International Literary Festival.
For information and orders:
Website:http://www.akashicbooks.com/shesgone.htm

About the author

Staff Writer