Reviews praise ‘The Moon Has Its Secrets’

by Barbara Blake Hannah

coverThe hardest part of being an author is waiting to hear what readers think of your work. You, of course, think it’s the greatest literature since … well, whoever! But deep down you know that you need to hear other opinions before you can be sure that you were not wasting time and creative anxiety putting all those words together, with a storyline, characters, drama, tension and eventual resolution, and then being confident enough to publish it to the world.

That was my condition when I celebrated Jamaican Independence August 1st, 2014 by publishing ‘THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS’ on Amazon.com, through its innovative e-publishing portal CreateSpace.  Since then my anxiety has subsided somewhat as — one by one — comments have been coming in that are positive enough to have enabled me to heave a sigh of relief.

Claudette Beckford-Brady, a Jamaican raised in England who is herself an author of 4 novels, wrote a Customer Review at Amazon.com:

“Not much is historically known about Jamaica’s only female hero, Nanny of the Maroons, affectionately referred to as Grandy Nanny by Jamaicans, but this novel by Barbara Makeda Blake Hanna is a credible depiction of her story. An interesting and entertaining fictionalised account, it begins in Africa in the 1600s chronicling the story of a young girl captured by slave traders and brought to Jamaica, and continues with the stories of her female descendants over several centuries, culminating in the 1970s with a white British girl seeking to find her slave ancestor, and illustrating Jamaica’s motto, “Out of many, one People”. … This fascinating novel “The Moon has its Secrets” speaks to her talent as a writer and should be required reading for all Jamaicans, and particularly high school students. It would also be good to see this book turned into a movie.”

brady bookIt’s a singular honour to be praised by another author, especially one whose work I respect as I do Claudette’s. Check out ‘YARD AND ABROAD’,  her new collection of short stories set in Britain and Jamaica,  full of amusing, poignant and entertaining scenes of both countries.

flakoIt’s an equal honour to have my work endorsed by a leading Rastafari Elder, historian Ras Flako whose books on the Coral Gardens incident are an accurate record of the gross acts of injustice that happened when a private act of revenge was turned into a wave of government brutality against any man professing the Rastafari faith.

Ras Flako wrote of my book: “The Moon Has Its Secrets” captures the many horrors of captivity and inhuman treatment by ones supposed to be humans themselves. The book also shows the willpower of human endurance against stockpiled odds and the yearning to be free.There are many lessons to be learned from this book, as many are still trapped in mental slavery and have completely ignored their roots and their allegiance to mother Africa because they are born in the Diaspora.”

connollyINVITING COMPARISONS      Jamaican journalist Michael Conally, now running a successful PR agency in London, also gave his opinion. “The Moon Has Its Secrets tells a compelling story, one which draws in selected parts of Jamaica’s wide cultural mix and weaves a story around characters hung together by history, ancestry and drama, connecting the past to the present and perhaps painting a signpost to the future. It is a book that, genre wise, will invite comparisons with historical slave novels but that would be an unfair box to plop it in.”

geisterCanadian film maker and TV director Michele Geister, who lives in Jamaica with her two children, made a lengthy review:  “Finally a new novel that is the first to celebrate the legacy of the island’s iconic, sole female national hero: Nanny of the Maroons. “The Moon Has Its Secrets” is eloquently drawn from Jamaica’s complicated, yet rich and fascinating history. Knowledge about this warrior queen exists only as legend so many thanks are due to the author for constructing a most feasible scenario for Nanny’s life.

Accomplished filmmaker, journalist and novelist Barbara Blake-Hannah has created an important work, weaving the country’s gritty, turbulent heritage and folklore into an adventurous page turner via the lives of five Jamaican women across the ages. Readers are taken on an intricately detailed journey of a nation’s maturation into self-awareness commencing with the horrors of Africa;s 17th century slave to colonialism then independence and all the way to the 1970’s international emergence of the Rastafari movement.

It is wonderful that this story is told from the female perspective as the country’s matriarchal lineage was/is Jamaica’s silent, unheralded strength.  The many annotated academic references heighten the experience of Blake-Hannah’s honest look back that is nuanced with feminine mysticism.  This book is a must have for all Jamaicans, high school students, visitors and lovers of this Caribbean island and its citizens’ feisty zest for life.

Nanny-of-the-MaroonsEMOTIONAL  REVIEW           Certainly, the most emotional review came from a US-based FaceBook friend, who had kept me informed with delightful comments as she read the first few chapters.  Then I didn’t hear from her for a while, until she sent this message:

“Blessings B.Makeda! Your book “the moon has its secrets” is forever united with me strong and even painfully,because first of all it touch my heart and soul from word one and secondly because it was my company during the last days of my beloved mother who has just left me little over a week. I was day and night at her bedside (she became almost 98, a history book herself) and at times she was sleeping I was reading thru…..finished the book little b4 she , as I want to say, flew away, because she always wanted to fly…..you see the connection how the book moved me? Just tellin u. When I am back on my feet and have my brain functioning proper I ll write the review on amazon….but I need some time now to get over this loss of my mom, a person that has always been there, all my life…….Highest Respect to you one love”

I was so startled. I wrote her back: “Wow!!! This is better than a ‘review’. I am so glad my book kept you company with your mother’s flight to Paradise!!! As the book showed you, she is just waiting to embrace you while you are still in flesh. Commune with her always, her spirit is real. Be comforted that JAH sent the book to keep you company. Your mother has good company with Nanny, who stayed with you both to the end. Never forget the spirit world. It’s real when the spirit is formed by LOVE.”

She wrote me back:  “This is such a beautiful picture!!!! Thank you, it imprint in mi mind and helps me…..I hope she can meet and reason with all these blessed elders that passed away lately …….some real great people leaving this earth rite now, isn´t it……. autumn leaves are letting loose of their trees, wild geese are gathering to fly to Africa….and all Mandela there too…… str8″

Definitely my favourite review!

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Nanny Falls, Portland

THE MOON HAS ITS SECRETS is available by Kindle download or by ordering a paperback copy at Amazon.com.

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jamaica – Ian Fleming’s Lasting Love Affair

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Matthew Parker’s biography “GOLDENEYE – Where Bond Was Born; Ian Fleming’s Jamaica” is as much about the noted author as it is about Jamaica’s history between the end of colonialism and the start of Independence. Parker’s book is a refresher course of all the interesting and important events that took place during this important period of our national history and he reports well on Jamaican people, places and events of the time in a vivid description of the island’s mix of wealthy English residents, snobbish Jamaican Whites holding on to the tatters of Empire, and the Black patriots and political leaders whose actions led to Jamaica today.

Most of all, the book shows the great love Ian Fleming had for Jamaica. It was not just the place where he wrote his books. Jamaica, and his simple home Goldeneye were the true and deepest loves of Fleming’s life. The small beach below his house, the sea in which he was as much at home as on land and where his daily adventures were catching fish for lunch and challenging barracudas, moray eels and sharks, indeed the entire country itself were the only places where Fleming felt truly at home.

MEMORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE             Falling in love with Jamaica after his first visit as a British Intelligence officer in 1942, in 1946 Fleming bought land and a small strip of beach at Oracabessa and on it built a simple house where he lived as often as he could escape his life in England, hosting occasional visitors including playwright Noel Coward who became neighbour and a close friend, British aristocracy including his wife Ann (former Countess Rothemere) and eventually British PM Sir Antony Eden recovering from the disaster of Britain’s failed attack on the Suez Canal. Economic needs made him turn his travels and writing experience into a series of books that served not only to pay his bills, but which came to be the dramatic fantasies that kept alive the last embers of the fading British Empire through a hero who embodied the noble and heroic qualities that had built England into a world force.

DrNoBondJamaica is always depicted as the place where Bond would find a welcome and rest from his adventures and, in the stories with Jamaican locations — “Doctor No” and “The Man With the Golden Gun” — the place that refreshes his life.  “As ever,” Parker writes, “Bond is soothed and reinvigorated by Jamaica … while listening to cicadas singing from the lignum vitae tree.  For Fleming, Jamaica evokes fond memories of his many assignments and adventures on the island … for him Jamaica was the oldest and most romantic of former British possessions.”

Fleming kept the house simple to escape the social circle of the times that included the English colonial governors, relics of an era now fortunately long gone. Also pictured are the wealthy White Jamaicans and British millionaires with palatial homes for winter visits, maintaining a thin crust of upper-class pretentiousness and racial superiority, while ignoring the very real Jamaica that was developing around them.

RECORD OF JAMAICA’S TRANSITION             Parker’s carefully researched book is full of excerpts from Fleming’s personal letters, as well as those of his wife and friends. Through these we get a clear picture of a man who, despite his love of women, clearly preferred his own company, writing each morning as a ritual, then satisfying his love of the sea with snorkel, flipper and spear gun,  with which he regularly used to catch meals of fish and lobster. His wife Ann liked neither the sea nor the house, quite the opposite of Blanche Blackwell – his Jamaican lover in whom he found the perfect person to share Goldeneye with, whether Ann was there or not.

For me, the strength of Parker’s book is its value as a record of Jamaica’s transition from colonialism to Independence. He traces the development of Jamaica’s tourist industry that was highly influenced by the attraction to Fleming’s Goldeneye and Coward’s Blue Harbour home of a long list of famous Hollywood and British film and stage stars, citing this activity as a major factor in the building of North Coast hotels such as Tower Isle near Oracabessa, Sans Souci in Ocho Rios and Round Hill in Montego Bay. Parker quotes Fleming’s disgust at the development of “… the rash of millionaire hotels” that Bond, with mixed feelings notices as he flies in over Jamaica’s North Coast in ‘Doctor No‘ and quotes Jamaican critics who observe that “… tourism had turned Jamaican youths into touts, beggars and parasites”, stating that “…while the economic benefits of tourism were meant to mitigate the problems of Jamaica’s colonial past … the industry actually shored up many core features … and trapped the island in the grip of neocolonialism.  For some it was a trade off between dignity and much-needed dollars.”

PrincessMargaret19620810SHAKING UP SOCIAL LAYERS             Parker observes with some pleasure that Jamaica’s social layers were about to be shaken up, as things that had been accepted up till then were now being seen as wrong and in need of correction.  As Jamaica moved from Britain’s attempt to unite its Caribbean colonies into a manageable, but ultimately failed, political Federation, Parker writes of the lifting of what Norman Manley called ‘the dead hand of colonialism’, noting that the 1955 visit of Princess Margaret to celebrate Jamaica’s 300 years of British rule was observed without any reference to what had taken place in those 300 years.

But Fleming shows that he recognizes that the days of White elitism are over, when Bond in ‘Doctor No’ says of the Queens Club (a perfect copy of Kingston’s then-racially exclusive Liguanea Club) that “Such stubborn retreats will not long survive in modern Jamaica. One day it will have its windows smashed and perhaps be burned to the ground.”  As we learn in Parker’s book, “Fleming’s proudest boast was that he had ‘learned about living amongst, and appreciating, coloured people – two very different lessons I would never have absorbed if my life had continued in its pre-Jamaican metropolitan rut.’”

For Fleming, Jamaica provided a place of recovery as it did for his hero Bond. “Jamaica … made Fleming ‘a different person from how he was in Britain. The island smoothed Fleming’s rough edges and in the six years between building Goldeneye and writing his first book, he explored Jamaica as thoroughly as he explored the sea and coral reefs outside the house.”  Writes Parker, “… each year Jamaica had soaked into him, with its creative spirit and cocktail of luxury, melancholy, imperialism,, fantasy, sensuality, danger and violence.”  Fleming not only uses Jamaica as a location for his stories; he adds Jamaican characters and names of Jamaican friends in his stories.  In ‘Casino Royale‘ Bond signs his name as ‘James Bond, Port Maria, Jamaica’, the town where Fleming’s marriage to Ann Rothemere took place. In ‘Live and Let Die’ Fleming takes Bond to Negril in the days before tourism arrived and which, for Bond, “… is the most beautiful beach he had ever seen, five miles of white sand sloping easily into the breakers and, behind, the palm trees marching in graceful disarray to the horizon.”

ian_fleming14LASTING LOVE FOR JAMAICA.        England was Fleming’s home and the patriotic affection he had for his country can be seen in every Bond novel.  The symbolism of Queen Elizabeth 11 declaring the 2012 Olympics open with a spoof Bond moment, is an indication of how much Bond represents to England and its reputation as a world leader.  But Parker’s book shows that the love Ian Fleming had for Jamaica overshadowed Fleming’s life and loves, and was amply displayed in each Bond book.

Indeed, Jamaica as seen through the eyes of Ian Fleming is a most beautiful, wonderful, magical place, as much a celebrity in its own right as the many titled and famous people who visit him at Goldeneye. Parker’s book made me even more happy to be a Jamaican, and made me know and love Ian Fleming even more than I already do. A thoroughly satisfying read that will both inform and delight Jamaicans, as well as fans of that dashing, perennial hero James Bond.

© Barbara Blake Hannah

SLEEPING OVER – Couples Swept Away

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Swept Away! The name alone is enticing. Who does not dream of being swept away on a tropical desert island with powder-soft white sand beaches, unlimited food and drink and the rocking rhythms of a Jamaican reggae band? At Swept Away, one of two Couples resorts on Negril’s seven-mile beach, the dream becomes reality.

Set in a tropical garden stretching 17 acres along Negril’s famous beach, Couples Swept Away fulfills all the best fantasies of a tropical vacation. Admire the sculptures by renowned Jamaican artist Gene Pearson while you are checked in by the charming Taneshe, who has spent the past 7 years perfecting her welcome smile, and you realize your stay is going to be uniquely different.

IMG-20140922-02626Your walk through the gardens to your villa-style bedroom gives you the first glimpse of the beautiful beach and crystal blue water for which Negril is world-famous. Sailboats rest at anchor, waiting patiently to be taken out to cruise the safe seas. Couples lounge in paired deckchairs pefecting their tans, sipping tropical smoothies. Staff hurry past on their myriad duties, never failing to offer a welcoming smile. You can tell already that this is going to be a perfect vacation.

IMG-20140922-02634One of the 4 Couples Resorts that began when Jamaican entrepreneur and patriot Abe Issa – dubbed ‘The Father of Jamaican Tourism’ – built the first hotel at Tower Isle, Ocho Rios, in 1949, the fabled hotelier, who served as Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board from 1955-1963, left a legacy of Jamaican tourism for his family that has led to the development of four beautiful resorts across Jamaica, of which Swept Away is one. Still very much a family business, Couples Resorts is led by Abe’s son, Lee, and other members of the Issa family, who along with a dedicated team of management and staff, remain committed to Abe’s pioneering vision and dedicated to making sure that each visit is a perfect one.

IMG-20140923-02671After our late check-in, we make our way to the dining room where Maitre d’ Dionne Drummond welcomes us with the enthusiasm that we are beginning to realize is a hallmark of Couples Swept Away staff, who are certainly the most courteous and interesting we have encountered in our many visits to Jamaican hotels. A grand buffet dinner featuring a wide selection of dishes, salads and pastas, is accompanied by the resident band playing international favourites and popular reggae hits in Bob Marley style. The long road trip from Kingston forces an early night. We choose the overhead fan above the air conditioning and retire to soft pillows and smooth sheets of an enormous bed.

IMG-20140922-02627We wake early and open our ground-level villa-style room onto a balcony with steps into the garden, where a pool filled with tropical fish and water lilies bubbles merrily. Room service Continental breakfast is served here and the sound of morning birds is fitting company. Soon we don swimsuits to enjoy the beautiful beach, refreshing ourselves with snacks from the nearby Veggie Bar whose staff delight in whipping up smoothies from a selection of Jamaican fruits, before it’s time for buffet lunch that ends with a selction of chocolate pastries. A post-lunch rest is required, as an afternoon rain shower shows us how the hotel’s gardens stay green and flourishing.

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Feathers Angel
Feathers Angel

There’s hardly enough time to do everything possible at Swept Away. We thought of  taking the Sunset Cruise to the Lighthouse, which could have given us a unique view of Negril. But, with only 2 nights to enjoy Swept Away, we have reserved dinner in Feathers – the gourmet restaurant for which the hotel is famous. A dress code applies which brings out the well-dressed guests who sip cocktails at the bar before being seated for a meal that is definitely the highlight of our visit. The most beautiful features of the restaurant are the murals of angels who fly on the walls over our heads. Painted by Oriente Issa – wife of Abe Issa’s youngest son Paul, they are an artistic delight that makes our meal even more special.

FEATHERS GOURMET RESTAURANT

Rack of Lamb
Rack of Lamb
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Chicken & Shrimp

Our waitress Tracy Ann is delightful, well-spoken and fully informed about the five-course menu from which we make our selection. We enjoy a Green Pea Lollipop Appetizer, shrimp, fish and marlin in a Seafood Medley, and Pumpkin soup infused with aromatic spices, before our main courses arrive. The Rack of Lamb is tender and seasoned to perfection while the Chicken with Shrimp served with CousCous provides another taste sensation.

With fine service by Tracy Ann (who has been at Swept Away for 6 years) we enjoy what my companion says is the ‘best gourmet meal ever experienced in Jamaica’. For dessert, Jamaican Bread Pudding served with Strawberry Sorbet never tasted so good, accompanied by Blue Mountain Coffee, to end a perfect meal and evening.

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Shellyann Simpson with Gene Pearson sculpture

An early morning swim gives us a final memory of the legendary Negril Seven Mile Beach, the endless stretch of white sand and blue water that has made this Jamaican resort world famous. Throughout our stay there has been no harassment by beach vendors and nothing but happy service from staff who seem to go out of their way to make us enjoy our visit.

Fruit and smoothies fill us before our final buffet lunch,then it’s time to check out of Paradise. We ask Guest Relations Manager Shellyann Simpson to convey our thanks to all the staff who have served us with such politeness and passion, to make our stay so very special. We have certainly enjoyed being SWEPT AWAY!

(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah