Black Writers Corner | Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

This Week’s Black Writers Corner shows one of my most favourite books to date.

If you’re looking for a breezy summer read to flip through while you’re lounging by the beach, you’ve come to the wrong place. Although Nicole Dennis-Benn’s stunning, award-winning, debut novel, Here Comes The Sun wouldn’t look out of place next to a Marian Key’s or A Jojo Moyes, the unassuming cover conceals a darker story that takes place in 1994 among the shantytowns of the resort town of Montego Bay. The book reveals the startling reality of exactly what a woman will do to escape the abject poverty of Post Colonial Jamaica’s Riverbank. The novel is coloured with the rhythmic Jamaican patois which is injected into most of the dialogue which I really enjoyed reading.

Dennis-Been manages to pack so much into this novel. We see colourism, homophobia, the sexualisation of young black girls and the politics of class mobility. The novel follows the side of Jamaica people scarcely think about when looking at itineraries or sipping martinis. A story told through the experience of three women, a mother and her two daughters, at various stages in life. What links all these characters is the desire for a better life, and all these of these characters go about it.

Margot is a woman with ambition. This 30-year-old beauty is sharp and cunning and as the novel goes on we learn how far she is willing to go and the lives she is willing to destroy for her dream. She knows exactly how to use her beauty to her advantage, beauty that has been both a blessing and just as easily a curse. During the day she smiles at herds of tourists and by night she entertains the hotel’s wealthiest clients as a courtesan and plays mistress to the hotel’s wealthy white owner. She does all this in hopes of catapulting herself and her 15-year-old sister Thandi out of poverty, working to pay her expensive private school fees and to realise her dreams of becoming a hotel manager.

For me, perhaps one of the most important issues this novel brings up is the idea of self-love postcolonialism and post-slavery. While those things may be dead and gone, the scars they’ve left behind are still pervasive is the diaspora. One of those being colourism with one of the most illuminating quotes comes from Delores, Thandi and Delores Mother:

“Nobody love a black girlNot even herself

This quote hit me hard, party because as a black girl, I can see the truth in it and am all too familiar.

Thandi is the character I related to the most. As a dark-skinned girl, I’m no stranger to the wounds colourism can cause. Thandi longs to be an artist and carries the weight of her sister and her mother’s dreams on her shoulders. They look to her as their saviour, her brains, they hope, will be a gateway to a better future. Through her experience, we see the dregs of Jamaica’s colonial past, colourism, which the book did an incredible job of exploring. Thandi wants more than anything to be fairer skinned like Simonetta, Sandro Botticelli’s muse. She thinks this will solve all of her problems. You see in Thandi’s Jamaica fair skin is a gateway to a better life, a sure way to get yourself the life you so badly desire. Better jobs, better prospects and most of all what Delores calls “a man like that.” The kind of man with money, who can show you a life you’d never even known possible. Thandi is sick of being invisible, sick of being dark skinned.

Delores is definitely a woman scorned. Look in every slum, every shantytown and you’ll find her. Bitter at her life, her skin and the world for her situation she takes this out on her daughter Margot. She can’t look at anything without pulling out the monetary value including both of her children. She sells souvenirs to white tourists. We see in Delores where Margot gets not just her tenacity from, but her willingness to do terrible things to get what she wants. Delores is furious when she sees a 10 year old Margot return home with a big smile on her face, even more so when she realised that the cause of that smile is a woman. Delores is a poisonous influence for both of her girls.

Though Margot and Delores commit some of the most unimaginable atrocities, you can’t judge them, or even hate them for it because when you see what they’re facing and the kind of world they are growing and grew up in, you understand exactly why they do what they do.

Dennis-Benn manages to question Jamaica rampant homophobia. A country where young girls are sexualised by older men and nobody bats an eye yet the prospect of a man loving another man, or a woman daring to love another woman is somehow worthy of dropping dead animals in a person's garden, or gang raping a woman as some form of “education.”

Nicole Dennis-Benn managed to write one of my most favourite books to date. Her ability to describe issues of colourism, sexualisation of young girls, class mobility and Jamaica’s disgusting attitude towards same-sex love with such complexity and understanding culminated in what I believe to be one of the most important books written in our time.

Nicole Dennis-Benn is a Jamaican Author. She moved the U.S. from Jamaica at the age of 17 and lives in New York with her wife. Here comes the sun won New York Time’s  Best Book of the Year.


Author: Nicole Dennis Benn
Published: 6 June 2016

Publisher: Liveright