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Till “I’m Laid To Rest

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She arrived in Miami on a summer night that was lit and sparkling like a Christmas tree. She wore her baby pink dress. Mark was there to meet her, his belly bulging under a loose-fitting polo shirt, his hairy
legs bold and strong, jutting out from a pair of white shorts that was almost tight. He chucked her luggage into a large shiny car without the slightest complaint.

“How the flight? All right?”

He slammed the doors, wound the windows down and eased the car into the traffic.

“OK, I guess,” she said.

“Feel just like Jamaica. Hot same way.” He piloted the car adroitly amidst a maze of underpasses and meandering highways.

She wound her window halfway up and cut Miami in half. He said something about how nice she looked but she hardly heard. She sat agape and astounded as they sailed above the glimmering city as if she
sat on a bed of stars.

She closed her eyes momentarily so she could open them again to the magic around her and confirm it was not a dream.

Kingston had buildings. Kingston had lights. But to see the beauty of it, one had to be in the hills as the streets all ran at ground level. Herein Miami, the highway took them through the centre of the shining city, not just horizontally, but vertically too.

“You eat?”

Mark’s words brought her back. “What?”

“You eat on the plane?”


“OK. Let’s go on the beach.”

“Now? Like this?”

He laughed teasingly. He had deliberately worded the suggestion to have a double meaning.

“Don’ worry, we just going to eat.”

“The place pretty,” she sighed.

“You don’ see nothing yet.”

Later, when asked what she remembered most about her first nights in Miami, Shirley Temple Brown said, ‘The lights.’

Those that lined the vast cruise ships from stem to bow as she passed the causeway, the ones that ran up and down the vast cranes reaching into the skies and guarding the port of Miami like sentinels, the big blue sign of the Miami Herald that appeared to her left as the draw-bridge approached, and
Miami Beach emerging as they crested onto the bridge, prescribing therim of the dark waters like a jewelled arc.

And when they got to the beach and cruised along the strip looking for a place to park, there were more lights blazing on buildings – hues of blue and red and purple and neon green; pink, and hazel and orange
too – buildings with names like Avalon, Olympiad, Majestic. Lights everywhere. Lights strung through trees, running along the sidewalk, on bikes, on people’s backs, on skateboards and skates.

This, she thought, was heaven on earth.

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Product Description

In this compelling novel, Till I'm Laid To Rest , Garfield Ellis' first novel with Nsemia Inc. Publishers , we meet Shirley Temple Brown a young woman who has survived some of the hardest social and political times Jamaica has seen. But now she is finally tired of just surviving, she wants to thrive and she knows she must leave Jamaica in order to do so.

She makes the decision to leave Jamaica for a new start in Miami. Not long after arriving in Miami, she begins to see what the glare of the sun and the bright lights have kept hidden: elderly American retirees living out their last days in the warmth and comfort their youth never afforded them, while being cared for by complete strangers; drug dealers hungry for their slice of the American dream, sexual predators, con artists and murderers.

Alone in a place where standing still is sure death Shirley is determined to succeed or be laid to rest!



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Product Reviews

  1. Garfield Ellis makes us see and hear people distinctly.

    Posted by Mervyn Morris on 28th Feb 2012

    In this compelling novel the central character is Shirley Temple Brown, a beautiful Jamaican climbing out of poverty towards improvement in status, material possessions and self-knowledge. She wrestles with conflicting values and bewildering choices. The world is hard to read. We see her life becoming “more complex and the forces in her more confused”.

    Born in Sufferers’ Heights and working in a Kingston bank, Shirley finds her home address has limited her prospects. She moves into a Kingston apartment rented by a frequent traveller, and comes to believe she will flourish in the United States. She enters the U.S. on the visitor’s visa she wangles; but, until she can get a social security number and a green card, she is not supposed to work, and she accepts illegal employment – as a babysitter manipulated into doing most of the housework, or as an unqualified night nurse for the elderly. “America make all kind a people do all kind of things.” She functions in contrasting spheres: sleeping in small flats, working in an upscale residential estate and in a tenth floor apartment looking out on North Miami Beach, and living for a while in an expensive place on the edge of a man-made lake northeast of Hallandale. Dazzled at first by the consumer society, she soon takes Aventura Mall and similar manifestations for granted. She interacts with a range of individuals, some mean, some threatening, some unaccountably generous, most of them presented as dynamic, complex, self-contradictory.

    Garfield Ellis makes us see and hear people distinctly. In scene after scene character and tension are communicated in nicely nuanced dialogue: Shirley not wanting another quarrel with her acquiescent mother and determined not to confide in her; her mother reading Shirley accurately but for a long time withholding what she knows; Shirley refusing to be subservient to a wealthy American white woman who is exploiting her; the perceptive husband trying not to offend either Shirley or his wife; the plain-speaking Jamaican Queeny who finds Shirley condescending and indecisive but remains an essential support; Shirley as a kept woman trying to manage a domineering white Jamaican man she finds physically unattractive; Shirley, hooked to a rich, calm, uneducated black Jamaican she has reason to fear who often seems to know what she is thinking. “A no words alone say things.”

    Because of her ambition, her education and the material comforts which have come her way, Shirley regards herself as the equal of anybody, and better than most of the Jamaicans with whom she interacts. In Florida her sense of self is buttressed by the company of Jamaicans, yet she tends to look down on them. (“She was beginning to feel a certain pride of being she had not felt before. As if to say: Here in this club, among the ragamuffin Jamaican crowd, there is significance in my existence. Here was proof of origin of which she could be proud. . . . Here, this minute, she belonged. “) Those who find her patronizing sometimes acknowledge they are of lower status in many respects. But they frequently question her values. Her mother, for example, argues people should be satisfied with what they have. Queeny’s realism and Moet’s fastidious gentleness challenge Shirley’s naïve assumptions. Jamaicans she would consider ordinary can be sensible and kind, and wicked.

    Emigration, immigration, time and change are among the main concerns in Till I’m Laid to Rest. Jamaicans in the United States “trying to make life” may encounter obstacles, including con men, drug-traffickers, racists and sexual predators. The immigrants’ hard-earned money sent home may be stolen by friends or relatives they trust, and the Jamaica to which they return often seems very different from the Jamaica they left.

    – Mervyn Morris

  2. Great Book

    Posted by Patricia J. Saunders, University of Miami on 28th Feb 2012

    Til I’m Laid to Rest is Garfield Ellis’s third novel and like the characters that inhabit his other novels, Shirley Temple Brown is a reflection of the seldom heard but often felt realities of everyday Jamaicans whose voices are often hidden or suppressed. However, unlike his previous two novels, Such As I Have (2003) and For Nothing At All (2005), which feature the voices of Jamaica’s youth through memorable characters like Headley, Pam Wesley, Skin, and Stevie; Shirley Temple Brown is a young woman who has survived some of the hardest social and political times Jamaica has seen. But now she is finally tired of just surviving, she wants to thrive and she knows she must leave Jamaica in order to do so. Til I’m Laid to Rest situates women’s experiences and voices at the center of the cultural landscape, rather than at its margins. To be sure, several women writers have represented the complex experiences of migration that women have had to contend with. Til I’m Laid to Rest places Garfield Ellis solidly among this tradition of representations once thought to be the purview of women writers. In Shirley Temple Brown Ellis has created a protagonist that will surely take her place among the many unforgettable characters that are part of the tradition of migration narratives in Caribbean literature.

    When we meet Sam Selvon’s Moses, Tolroy, Captain, Big City and Galahad (“the boys”) in Lonely Londoners (1956), they are struggling to live out their modest dreams in London. Leaving Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, one might imagine that their dreams were wealth and comfort, but sometimes for “the boys” these dreams amounted to a few pounds a week, a meal and a warm female body for the night, preferably one that did not come with a price. Instead, what they met were the mean, cold streets, boarding houses and hostels of the Empire and work that barely paid them enough to live, let alone prosper. Selvon’s characters belong to a long tradition of young men (also present in the works of George Lamming, V.S. Naipaul and later, Austin Clarke) who left the Caribbean to take a chance Britain, only to arrive and discover that as the sun was beginning to set on the British Empire, not all of its subjects were accorded an equal share of belonging.

    A few years later Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstone (1959) introduced us to another perspective of the immigrant experience, this time through the eyes of a community of working class Caribbean women in the U.S. When we are introduced to Silla Boyce, her family, and the women who reside in the brownstones of Brooklyn, we immediately notice the difference between Silla and Selvon’s protagonists. She is not a subject of the American empire, and those who are subjects/citizens (Black Americans) were still treated like unwelcomed guests in “this man country. Marshall’s protagonists are dealing with what it means to be black, female, mothers, single and (during World War II) at the lowest rung of the social and economic hierarchy. And yet, they scrub floors, fight unrelentingly to make a way for themselves, their families and, at times, one another. Nights filled with laughter and drinking are few and far between as theirs is a life of hard work and hardship and those who dare to refuse to embrace this reality cast out of the community as is the case with Suggie and Deighton.

    Til I’m Laid to Rest and Shirley Temple Brown, are proud heirs to both of these traditions of Caribbean migrant narratives. Set in Miami, affectionately known as “Kingston 21” (a social and cultural annex of Kingston) to many from Jamaica, the reality she encounters in the mean streets of Miami is contrary to what her story-book name prepares both her and us for. Like her predecessors, Shirley leaves Jamaica [for an opportunity to “make it big” and she is prepared to face the difficulties that appear repeatedly like a soldier ready to do battle. The only things between her and success are a green card, a job that pays her a living wage while allowing her to keep her dignity in tact, and a safe environment in which to live; no small order by any measure. She had known the comfort of a concrete house in Spanish Town, living with her mother and father; she had also felt the pain of the poverty that ate at her sense of well being when they were evicted and took up residence Sufferers Heights, an impoverished settlement in Central Village. Life for Shirley Temple Brown was beginning to look up, she was experiencing a new level of comfort; living with a wealthy businessman, working a very good job in a bank and possessed all of the material markers that distinguished her from her peers as a woman who was “going places.” But when her comfort and future are threatened, she makes the decision to leave Jamaica for a new start in Miami.

    Enthralled by the bright lights and shiny veneer of this tropical city, she quickly learns that sometimes, the things that shine the brightest are nothing more than a fool’s gold in disguise. Not long after arriving in Miami, she begins to see what the glare of the sun and the bright lights have kept hidden: elderly American retirees living out their last days in the warmth and comfort their youth never afforded them, while being cared for by complete strangers; drug dealers hungry for their slice of the American dream, sexual predators, con artists and murderers. Miami – the cellophane wrapping which brightens and preserves the colors of tropical flowers, large malls, night clubs and expensive cars – is a willing accomplice in the drama that seems determined to dull the shine of Shirley Temple Brown’s star. Alone in a place where standing still is sure death, Shirley learns the ropes from a community of Jamaicans who have gone before her and made hard beds as comfortable, as best they know how. Til I’m Laid to Rest is inhabited by a host of memorable characters who, no matter the depths of despair and desperation, create small envelopes of trust, friendship and love; at times within themselves and, when lucky, in one another. Shirley, Queeny, Tiny, Moet and Chef all navigate her way through the fast paced life of this tropical city against the backdrop Caribbean rhythms that become the soundtrack to their complex lives. By the end of this novel it is clear that these characters want the same things those who continue to leave their homes, families, communities and even their countries want: to improve their futures. What separates us from these characters are the lengths to which they are prepared to go in order to improve their circumstances.

    Patricia J. Saunders
    University of Miami
    April 2010

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